PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Call him the $16-million insurance policy.
The Mets on Friday agreed to terms with free-agent lefthander Jason Vargas, a much-needed buffer for a rotation that has struggled with injury and bouts of ineffectiveness in the last few years.
The deal for Vargas, 35, which was first reported by FanRag’s Jon Heyman, is for two years and $16 million, with a club option for 2020, and is pending a physical, a source said. Vargas’ contract includes $1.5 million in incentives, according to multiple reports.
While the Mets could not officially comment on the agreement because it has yet to become official, manager Mickey Callaway said he doesn’t “think you could have too much pitching” and added, “In our case, that would be wonderful [to add pitching]. It can’t ever [not] help to have quality arms.”
Vargas’ deal, while welcome to the coaching staff and front office, does complicate things. Callaway said that with the extra off days that MLB added to the schedule this year, a six-man rotation would not be ideal. That means someone — perhaps Zack Wheeler — could end up being the odd man out.
“It’s challenging to actually pitch six pitchers because then guys are pitching on their seventh day and things like that, and that’s probably too long to keep guys in,” Callaway said.
When asked if there will be a competition for the back end of the rotation — possibly between Wheeler and lefthander Steven Matz — Callaway pretty much confirmed that this will be the case.
“I don’t think we’re penciling anybody in,” he said. “I think everything is a competition and I think it always is . . . I think guys that do things the right way and go about their business the right way, those are the types of players we want, so everything is a competition.”
Vargas was 18-11 and had a 4.16 ERA with the Royals in 2017 but had a noticeable drop after the All-Star break. He was 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA before the break, earning a spot on the All-Star team for the first time in his 12-year career, but went 6-8 with a 6.38 ERA afterward. For the season, he struck out 134 in 179 2⁄3 innings, walked 58 and allowed 27 home runs.
Vargas, who made two starts for the 2007 Mets, provides a steady veteran presence for a troupe of young pitchers, many of whom have struggled to survive a full season without injury. He sports a changeup that could work well under Callaway, a longtime proponent of off-speed pitches during his time as the Indians’ pitching coach.
Vargas “can pitch,” said Callaway, who saw him often in the AL Central. “He’s a guy that goes out there, does his job, tremendous teammate, and he gave them fits when we were facing him in Cleveland.”
That might be bad news for Wheeler, who was clipped Friday when asked about Vargas.
The 27-year-old righthander missed the end of last season with a stress reaction in his pitching arm. He underwent Tommy John surgery before the start of the 2015 season and did not throw another pitch in the majors until 2017, when he went 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 games.
“I’m just here to be a starting pitcher,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know if he can pitch out of the bullpen. “That’s what I’ve always been. That’s what I’m gonna be. When I’m healthy, I know I’m just as good as anybody out there, so that’s what I’m concentrating on.”
2017: 18-11, 4.16 ERA
Career: 85-81, 4.17 ERA