Finally, a legitimate move that changes the Mariners roster! LHP Jason Vargas is the newest Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, 1B Kendrys Morales the newest Seattle Mariner.
Vargas is a known commodity. He has been a largely unspectacular but faithful sidekick to King Felix in the starting rotation. He was also a very pleasant surprise in the J.J. Putz trade, and his change-up conjured up memories of Jamie Moyer at the turn of the millenium. There are reasons Vargas was an underground fan favorite. I personally enjoyed watching him pitch, and I will miss seeing him take the mound every fifth day.
With that said, this is a really good deal for the Mariners - not franchise-altering good, but really good.
Vargas maximized his talent in Seattle and has nowhere to go but down. Safeco Field masked his greatest weaknesses as a lefty fly-ball pitcher, although those weaknesses will continue to be masked at Angel Stadium. Vargas stranded an unsustainably high amount of baserunners last year, which kept his ERA from showing that he had slipped a bit last season. I don't expect Vargas to fall apart in 2013, but I'm not convinced he will be worth the $7-8 million he will likely earn in arbitration.
Kendrys Morales has his issues too. He broke his leg memorably on a walk-off grand slam a few years ago against the Mariners. He hasn't been the same hitter since, which means his overly aggressive approach is harder to stomach. However, Morales can play a respectable first base and he still has what the Mariners lacked most - power. Morales is a safe bet to play at a level similar to what Mike Carp gave the Mariners in his pleasant second-half surge back in 2011. He also projects to make $4-5 million in arbitration. Both Morales and Vargas will be free agents after the 2013 season.
Overall, the Mariners at worst made an even trade talent-wise, but in the process acquired some needed power at a position that was a question mark going into the season, all while saving around $3 million. I like Morales's upside more than Vargas's though, so this deal could end up looking nice for the Mariners.
This trade opens up a hole in the M's rotation, which is an issue, but one that can be handled. There are several decent free agents left on the open market, and likely a handful of decent pitchers available in trades. Vargas was a solid pitcher, but replaceable. The odds are good that the Mariners have the money to sign a Vargas replacement (if not upgrade!) and another bat.
Best wishes to Jason Vargas, but this deal was a no-brainer for the Mariners. The lineup just got more respectable at the cost of a manageable downgrade in the starting rotation. This deal could feel like a pleasant surprise, a la the John Jaso for Josh Lueke swap last offseason, or Vargas and Franklin Gutierrez offsetting the loss of J.J. Putz. We'll see.