As you most certainly know by now, the Kansas City Royals signed starting pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract on Thursday, making their first major splash of the offseason.
There's a number of ways to evaluate this contract and each one of them gives you a different opinion on how good of a deal this is for Kansas City. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs did a dollars-per-win evaluation, and thinks that Vargas has a good chance to provide $32 million over the life of his contract:
$32 million is paying for something like +5 WAR over the next four years, and even if we just project him for +2.0/+1.5/+1.0/+0.5, then we'd expect him to produce exactly +5 WAR over the life of this deal. This isn't a gross overpay. It's just transferring some of the cost of signing an average pitcher from 2014 to 2017.
I think Cameron makes some solid points in his article, and shows why many Royals fans don't flat out hate this move. It doesn't look like it will be a drastic overpay, and hopefully will not limit the team too much financially down the future.
Keith Law of ESPN Insider doesn't understand why the Royals needed to spend four years on a pitcher like Vargas, who offers little upside (Subscription):
It makes the Royals a little better for now, but Vargas operates with such a slim margin for error that he could end up cannon fodder by the middle of the deal, especially if he loses another half-grade of velocity.
Vargas could be one of those guys who hangs on for awhile since he "knows how to pitch" and has consistent mechanics, so his loss of stuff won't impact him as much. Royals play-by-play annoucer/ hype man Steve Physioc attempted to present the argument on Twitter, so I'm sure you will hear it again.
Of course, Vargas' stuff has never been overpowering to begin with, so if it slips some more, he could fall off a cliff. I doubt Vargas will be apart of this team's starting rotation in 2017; the final year of this deal is probably going to hurt. ZiPS thinks Vargas is going put up three wins over the life of the contract, which isn't exactly encouraging:
@patkreik9 Remember, tried to spare you! pic.twitter.com/1elAXLUn2M— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 21, 2013
Szymborski does think Vargas will outperform the projections, and he might with the help of Kauffman Stadium and a strong Royals defense. Still, it would be nice to see better projections from a player that will be expected to start every fifth day.
David Lesky of Pine Tar Press is waiting to completely judge the deal until we see what else the Royals do this offseason:
If this is the first of two or three moves, then I think it could be a nice setup for this team moving forward, but if he is the last of the rotation upgrades, the 2014 Royals are going to struggle to match what the 2013 Royals put up... I just think he's far too average for him to be the big addition to a rotation looking to compete for a division title in 2014. So yeah, the move itself is just average, but I don't think it does a good enough job of filling the Royals needs.
I completely understand Lesky's current fence-sitting. Vargas would be a nice upgrade over Bruce Chen/Wade Davis, but there is a real fear that he is going to be expected to replace Ervin Santana. Especially when Kansas City Star beat writer Bob Dutton tweets out things like this:
Think he'll be No. 2 in rotation. @CoverTheBases Mr. Dutton, what are your thoughts on the Vargas signing?— Bob Dutton (@Royals_Report) November 22, 2013
Dutton is just guessing, but he is about as connected to the Royals organization as they come, so his guesses should hold more weight than ours. Moore indicated in the press conference that the team is still searching for upgrades to the rotation, but also said that they would be comfortable with the pitchers the pitchers they have.
Unless you are really high on Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer in 2014, there is no way you can expect the Royals to replace Santana's 2013 production with their current crop of starters. The defense should help, but this team still needs to improve from last year, and Vargas at the number two is a clear dropoff.
I mean, the Royals are trying to actually reach the postseason in 2014, right? Unless something completely unexpected happens, James Shields will be pitching for a new team in 2015, leaving the team without a clear top-of-the-rotation pitcher. The window for reaching the playoffs is now, and Vargas barely moves the needle in the correct direction.
Finally, the Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie contracts should show why it's so important, especially for a team on a budget, to develop young pitching. If Vargas does indeed break camp as the No. 2 starter, then the Royals will have spent around 1/3 of the team's budget in 2014 on the top three starters, and will receive 8 WAR at best. That's a pretty expensive investment without a whole lot of return.
Vargas' contract doesn't look terrible, but it's too long and leaves the Royals still searching for another top-end starter. If the team decides to make Vargas the No. 2 starer in 2014, this deal will probably end up looking worse.