The Phillies will try to plug their thinned starting rotation with another veteran left-hander after acquiring Jason Vargas in a trade with the New York Mets on Monday.
The 36-year-old Vargas has a 4.01 ERA in 19 games with the Mets, a mark that was ballooned by three rough appearances at the start of the season. He has a 3.27 ERA in his last 16 starts, a stretch that started in the middle of April.
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Acquiring Vargas did not come at a high price as the Phillies sent double-A catcher Austin Bossart to the Mets and received cash to help offset half of the $5 million Vargas is still owed this season. Bossart, a 26-year-old who played at Penn, was hitting .195 with double-A Reading.
“We believe that Jason Vargas is going to give us a chance to win every time he takes the ball. That’s what he does. He keeps his team in the game,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “I like the fact that it’s a different look than what we have. He’s a soft-tossing lefty and we have a lot of hard-throwing righties. He’s a very good complement to our pitching staff.”
The Phillies will have to decide how Vargas fits into their rotation. He started Sunday with the Mets and will start for the Phillies on either Friday or Saturday against the White Sox. Zach Eflin is scheduled to start Friday, but he could be optioned to triple A to make room for Vargas. The Phillies could return Vince Velasquez to the bullpen or elect to use either Eflin or Velasquez as a “piggyback” long reliever on nights when Jake Arrieta starts. Velasquez pitched well in his last start and Eflin has a 10.46 ERA in his last six starts after being roughed up on Saturday night.
The Phillies will remain active until Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. They could still use help in the bullpen and on the bench. It would be a surprise if Vargas was their final move.
“Until the clock strikes 4 o’clock on Wednesday, we’re going to keep the phone lines open and keep having a dialogue,” Klentak said. “I think it was really important for us to add a starter. Partially because of the inconsistency we’ve had in our rotation for the first four months of the year but also because of the limited opportunity to add anything after Wednesday. So that was a priority for us.”
The Phillies entered Monday one game out of the National League’s crowded wild-card race. They have stayed in playoff contention despite a starting rotation that has lagged behind Aaron Nola. Arrieta has a bone spur in his right elbow. Nick Pivetta was bumped to the bullpen, Velasquez returned from the bullpen, and Eflin could soon be headed there.
If the Phillies were to pull ahead of the pack, they would need to upgrade their pitching. And they did it this month by taking low-cost chances on Vargas and fellow veteran left-hander Drew Smyly instead of paying the cost in prospects it would have taken to land a young, controllable starter. Smyly is a free agent after the season. Vargas has a team option for 2020. The moves carried little risk. But they could be what determines if the Phillies can return to October.