Vargas to return next season: 'He'll do anything for this club'

Veteran utility player, Nationals agree to terms on contract for 2024

September 28th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Ildemaro Vargas’ infectious exclamation of “¡Campeón!” will emanate throughout the Nationals’ clubhouse again next season.

The Nats signed the enthusiastic switch-hitting veteran utility player to a contract for 2024, avoiding potential offseason arbitration and bringing back a leader whose signature greeting -- which translates to “champion” -- uplifts his teammates and club staff.

“I could talk all day about him,” manager Dave Martinez said Wednesday before the Nationals’ 5-1 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards. “An unbelievable person, a good teammate, plays the game with a lot of heart and the guys love him. I love him. He can do so many different things for us. He’s a good baseball player. So to have him back for another year, I’m excited about that.”

Vargas, 32, will return for his third season with Washington. After playing for the D-backs, Twins, Cubs and Pirates, he signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals in May 2022. Vargas’ contract was selected in August of that year, and he has since become a go-to player for defensive versatility.

“For me, as a professional baseball player, I know how the situation is,” Vargas said. “There is some calmness and relief to be able to go home into the offseason knowing I already have a contract made, just for peace of mind for myself and my family.”

This season, Vargas has played third base, second base, shortstop, left field, right field and pitcher. He also put in work to develop behind the plate.

Of the positions, Vargas saw the most time at the hot corner (44 games). He will continue to hone his outfield skills during winter ball in Venezuela, where he is the captain of the Cardenales de Lara.

“He’s totally engaged every day and knows what his role is -- he’s got three or four gloves in his locker,” Martinez said. “He’s worked all year about catching, too, to be that third catcher if we needed him in an emergency. He’ll do anything for this club. I love him, I really do. He’s a great guy to have around and still plays the game the right way.”

Vargas is hitting .245 with 12 doubles and 31 RBIs in 84 games. Earlier this season, he held the fourth-longest active streak in baseball without a strikeout (26 plate appearances, May 28-June 18), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And this month, he reached base safely in a career-best 13 consecutive games in which he had at least one plate appearance (Sept. 5-24).

“On a professional and a personal level, I’m very happy,” Vargas said. “I haven’t had an easy career, bouncing around. Even as far as six, seven years ago, I was in independent ball, I didn’t know what my future [was]. But I’m very happy and grateful for the Washington Nationals to keep giving me this opportunity to be part of the team. I’ll help out any way that I can, and I’m excited to come back next year.”

Vargas, who began his pro career signing a Minor League deal with St. Louis in 2008 and made his MLB debut with Arizona in ’17, embraces sharing his experiences and setting an example through his work ethic. He is the second-oldest active player on the Nats, and he connects with teammates of all ages with his inviting personality.

“He’s the best,” said Luis García, 23. “He’s always happy, and everybody feels that. When he’s happy, everybody’s happy. When he’s angry, everybody’s angry -- but he’s never angry (laughs). I’m happy for him. … I learned a lot of things [from him]: playing second base, turning double plays quickly. He’s a good guy.”

Vargas looks forward to building with the young teammates he has gotten to know and welcoming in a talented group of top prospects on the horizon.

“For me, being part of this new generation of Washington Nationals is important to me,” Vargas said.