Vaya con dios, Vargas

2019-07-30 JasonVargas
Jason Vargas, from the frying pan to a pennant race, perhaps undeservedly.

Marcus Stroman is said to have been less than thrilled about his trade to a team he and almost all baseball thinks is slightly beyond the pennant race. It’s not that he objected to going to New York, but Stroman thought in his heart of hearts that, if the Blue Jays didn’t want to extend him, the Yankees wanted him, period.

To put things as politely as did Toronto Sun writer Rob Longley, Stroman’s reaction to his trade to the Mets “wasn’t pretty.” But barely a day after the Mets sent the Jays a pair of middle-regarded pitching prospects to get Stroman, they rid themselves of a fifth starter they should have unloaded over a month ago.

Trading Jason Vargas to anyone who’d have him should have been priority number one after the 23 June disaster in Chicago. Trading him to the Phillies now, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Monday afternoon, means they weren’t kidding about Stroman’s importance to them. Maybe it means they really swapped Vargas for Stroman.

And maybe that’s giving both Vargas and the Mets a little too much credit.

Assume Stroman the new number two behind Jacob deGrom, and incumbent Noah Syndergaard still en route a new address before Wednesday’s trade deadline, and the Mets’ rotation already looks improved. But that shouldn’t have been the absolute top thought in moving Vargas at last.

Of course, this could also be a case of a too-delayed “we’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget,” since fly ball pitchers like Vargas risk life and limb pitching in Citizens Bank Park. Except that the Mets aren’t that clever. Not that we know of.

The Mets got minor league catcher Austin Bossart for Vargas. They should have sent him on his way for any bag of balls or hammers as soon as possible after a 23 June nobody around the Mets will forget.

If the Mets had had a general manager like Washington’s Mike Rizzo—who suffers neither fools nor malcontents gladly and moves accordingly, even if he looks like he’s jumping the proverbial gun a bit much—Vargas would have donned another uniform as soon as possible then.

Because it was bad enough that embattled Mets manager Mickey Callaway let Seth Lugo—in relief of deGrom—work a second inning when he barely had his C+ stuff to survive his first in Wrigley Field that day. It was worse after Lugo surrendered a 3-2 Mets lead into a 5-3 Cubs lead that held up for a Mets loss.

Callaway then didn’t seem to get that the number one postgame question from any reporters covering the Mets, never mind Newsday‘s Tim Healey, and considering his issues in managing his dubious enough bullpen entering that game, wasn’t going to be how he rated Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch.

When Healey finished his questioning by saying nothing more offensive than, “See you tomorrow, Mickey,” Callaway sank into an expletives-undeleted reply that was merely vulgar but not in league with such legendary lashings as those of Lee Elia and Tommy Lasorda. The manager wouldn’t even listen when Healey tried assuring him he meant nothing sarcastic in his parting offering.

That’s when Vargas, who was within earshot of Callaway’s rant, addressed Healey with a plain but very troublesome “I’ll knock you the [fornicate] out, bro.” Healey acknowledged Vargas taking a step or three toward him while acknowledging as well that others claiming Vargas charged him were slightly exaggerated. But whether a step or a charge wasn’t half as important.

There were those close to the Mets who believed Vargas’s outburst was almost completely out of character for him. So was then-Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley’s moment of weakness, during an unlikely late-inning relief assignment near the end of a Nats blowout that made him an ex-Nat post haste.

Kelley slammed his glove to the ground after surrendering a home run that followed a gesture toward his dugout that Rizzo interpreted as an attempt to show up his manager Dave Martinez. It wasn’t that by any means and even Martinez suggested as much in its wake. Kelley himself said he wanted nothing more than some help from the skipper over a pair of contradictory umpires’ instructions toward him before he threw the fateful pitch. Rizzo, alas, was in no mood to hear anything except the sound of Kelley’s footsteps leaving town.

“You’re either in or you’re in the way,” was Rizzo’s pronouncement after he dealt Kelley to the Athletics—going, in other words, from one team struggling to stay in the races to another team with a clear strike toward a wild card at least. But Rizzo sent the message loud and clear. Just as he’d done shipping another reliever, Brandon Kintzler, out of town a little earlier, when he believed (erroneously) Kintzler was the source of leaks to the press revealing discord in the Nats clubhouse.

Rizzo may not have had all his factual ducks in a row, and it was baseball’s worst kept secret that he had no intention of asking Kelley for his side of the story. He wanted nothing from Kelley but his absence, and he got it, even if you’re tempted to wish you’d been in his living room when he watched Red Sox reliever Eduardo Rodriguez slam his glove to the ground after surrendering a World Series home run and survive.

But the message Rizzo sent through disappearing Kelley is exactly the message rookie Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen should have sent immediately when it came to the Vargas incident in Chicago, no matter how well Vargas was pitching or would pitch, and Van Wagenen had far more cause to send it than Rizzo did.

The Mets’ clubhouse hasn’t always been cohesive this year, and those observing Callaway can’t stop believing he should have been canned long before now while still not believing he’s received more votes of confidence than a government figure who usually knows a vote of confidence today means his execution within a very few days to come.

But Vargas should have been run at once. Callaway was foolish enough going rogue on Healey, but at least he didn’t threaten to knock Healey the [fornicate] out. That can’t happen. Vargas committed a hundred times the crime Kelley committed.

Instead, both Callaway and Vargas were allowed to survive somehow. (In case you’ve forgotten, so were Kelley and Kintzler: Kelley went to the American League wild card game last year and is now having a remarkable 2019 with the Rangers; Kintzler went to the Cubs and the National League wild card game. Some punishments.) Even after their notorious non-apologies to follow.

Vargas has pitched well enough. He’s surrendered more than three earned runs in only one of sixteen starting assignments since he surrendered four in a 13 April start against the Braves that saw him not survive the first inning.

Instead of handing him his head on his plate over threatening Healey, though, the Mets let Vargas survive to become trade bait for . . . a minor league catcher with little apparent upside. Well, you suppose it might comfort Healey just a little to know he’s worth more than a bag of balls or hammers, after all.

But now we see that Van Wagenen has one thing in common with Rizzo. What kind of punishment is it, really, when your idea of ridding your team of the elements you think threatens its cohesion is to send the miscreants from the frying pan back into the pennant race?

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