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Improved Jason Vargas could be a trade chip for Mets

Jason Vargas #44 of the Mets pitches during

Jason Vargas #44 of the Mets pitches during the first inning against the Yankees at Citi Field on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

As the Mets inch toward public acceptance of their likely trade-deadline status as sellers, aided by a 5-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday, it’s worth taking stock of their tradeable pieces.

Their most obvious and valuable trade asset is Zack Wheeler, a free agent this offseason who should be one of the better starters available this month. And then there is Todd Frazier, another free-agent-to-be who might be attractive to a contender as a veteran presence and righthanded bat (especially in a season in which he has crushed lefthanded pitching). After that, it might be just … Jason Vargas?

That there is even a possibility of the Mets maybe trading Vargas is a testament to his recent effectiveness, including a 2.76 ERA since April 19. He would be a different type of acquisition than Wheeler, whom a team would trade for in the hopes that he re-finds his top-of-the-rotation form, like when he had a 1.68 ERA in the second half last year. Vargas  instead could feasibly slot into the back end of another club’s rotation. Vargas also has an $8-million club option (or a $2-million buyout) for 2020, if a team believed his 3.77 ERA this season was anything close to repeatable.

“It’s never really something I’ve had to pay too much attention to,” said Vargas, 36, who in 14 major-league seasons has been traded three times, all in the winter. “Whatever happens in the game just kind of happens, and you have to deal with doing your job wherever that may be.”

Vargas allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings Wednesday, showing again in facing the Yankees — the highest-scoring team in the majors — that he can compete against the best of lineups. Amid this strong stretch, Vargas has shut down the Dodgers for seven innings (one run), turned in a quality start against the Yanks last month and struck out a career-high-tying 10 against the Phillies last week.

This one started ugly for Vargas, with DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge beginning the game with back-to-back doubles. Gleyber Torres singled with two outs to score Judge and make it a two-run opening inning.

From there, Vargas settled in, flummoxing the Yankees with his mid-80s fastballs and even slower secondary pitches. He allowed at least one baserunner in every inning, but avoided the kind of game-losing, ERA-ruining blowup that was so common for him last year and early this year.

The Yankees didn’t strike for another run until the sixth, when Didi Gregorius mashed Vargas’ 100th pitch to right-center for a solo home run.

“It was just a complete lack of focus in what happened in that pitch,” Vargas said. “I felt so bad about how that last at-bat went down, because I felt like we were probably in a pretty good situation to finish that hitter and finish the inning. It was just frustrating because Wilson [Ramos] was calling a great game and I felt like I let him down.”

That triggered manager Mickey Callaway pulling Vargas for Wilmer Font, who let the Yankees open it up in allowing two runs in 1 1/3 innings. (Steven Matz, making his relief debut, stranded two Font baserunners when he got Gregorius to ground out to second to end the seventh.)

Vargas finished with six strikeouts and two walks. He gave up seven hits.

Will that outing be one of Vargas’ last with the Mets? The prospect return almost certainly would be minimal, but the Mets have made a habit in recent summers of prioritizing salary relief when trading players. Vargas is due almost $4 million the rest of the season.

For now, the Mets will take Vargas’ adequacy on the mound.

“He gave us a chance,” Callaway said. “Another great outing.”

New York Sports