When projecting potential free agent options for the Kansas City Royals in the starting rotation, it was expected that they would target pitchers that, for whatever reason, were considered undervalued assets. Pitchers such as Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson and Phil Hughes were all connected to the Royals, in part because they all would be low risk/high reward free agent pitchers. However, that plan went out the window as Hudson signed with the Giants, and Johnson followed him to the West Coast, inking a deal with the Padres.
With the Royals still needing a starter, it appeared as though Hughes was the only option seemingly available. While he may still end up being signed by the Royals, they filled a spot in their rotation by going outside of their expected shopping list, signing Jason Vargas to a four year, $32 Million contract.
Vargas may not be that impressive when looking at his career numbers, but he has been a much better pitcher over the past four seasons that his career statistics would indicate. Since becoming a full time starter in 2010, Vargas has gone 42-44 with a 3.97 ERA, failing to top 190 innings only once in that time frame. Overall, he appears to be a solid back of the rotation innings eater, someone that may be more likely to replace Bruce Chen as opposed to Ervin Santana.
However, Vargas could thrive in Kansas City. As an extreme fly ball pitcher, his improved performance coincided with pitching for both the Mariners and the Angels. A move to Kauffman, which has been a difficult place to hit home runs, could only help. With a better outfield defense than what Vargas had behind him in either stop, he has the potential to outperform the value of his contract.
Jason Vargas also adds another element for the Royals. Paired with James Shields, he gives the Royals a pair of extremely durable pitchers, capable of taking the ball every fifth day and lasting seven or more innings each time out. In those past four seasons, Vargas failed to make over thirty starts only once, due to a blood clot. Yet, he showed his health by making all his starts down the stretch and firing a shutout in his final start of last year. With the possibility of having Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura in the rotation next season, being able to give the bullpen more time off could be essential. Vargas, along with Shields, can help bring that type of stability to the rotation.
It is always difficult to trust an extreme fly ball pitcher, especially when he has a tendency to give up home runs. However, Kauffman is where home runs seemingly go to die. With that being the case, Jason Vargas may have landed in the perfect spot, and may outperform his contract.