PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets' offseason efforts, while wide-ranging, seemed incomplete. The team spent much of this winter fortifying its most obvious areas of need -- the bullpen and infield. It ignored a rotation rife with issues, with general manager Sandy Alderson going as far as to say,
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets' offseason efforts, while wide-ranging, seemed incomplete. The team spent much of this winter fortifying its most obvious areas of need -- the bullpen and infield. It ignored a rotation rife with issues, with general manager Sandy Alderson going as far as to say, "I'm not convinced we need more pitching."
In the end, however, the Mets relented, deferring to the adage that a team can never have enough. New York iced its offseason with a rotation signing on Sunday, officially inking left-hander Jason Vargas to a two-year, $16 million deal. The contract includes an $8 million club option for 2020 and up to $3 million in innings incentives, bringing its total potential value to $27 million over three seasons. In order to make room for Vargas on the 40-man roster, the Mets placed infielder T.J. Rivera on the 60-day disabled list.
"I don't think you can have too much pitching," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "It can't ever [hurt] to have good, quality arms."
Over the past dozen years, Vargas has established himself as one such arm, posting a 4.17 ERA for five teams. Now 35 years old, the left-hander went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA last year for the Royals after missing most of the previous two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. Discounting those injury-shortened campaigns, Vargas has averaged 188 innings per year since 2010.
As such, he offers the Mets rotation insurance in the event that Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler -- all of whom have struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers -- are unable to remain on the mound this season. Vargas will join a rotation that should include some combination of those three, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo are also vying for spots this spring, creating perhaps the most compelling job hunt in baseball.
"I don't think we're penciling anybody in," Callaway said. "Everything's a competition."
It is possible that one of Wheeler, Gsellman or Lugo winds up in the bullpen, though for now, the Mets appear willing to classify all of them as starters.
"I'll just go out there and do what I normally do," Wheeler said, offering only clipped answers to questions after learning of the signing. "I'm just here to be a starting pitcher. That's what I've always been, and that's what I'm going to be. When I'm healthy, I know I'm just as good as anybody out there."
Yet health has been enough of an issue for Wheeler and others that the Mets kept an eye on pitching options all winter. An abnormally quiet free-agent market also kept them engaged -- particularly in a class of arms that included Vargas, Andrew Cashner and Jaime Garcia. Waiting for a "pressure point" in that market, the Mets signed Vargas one day after the other two agreed to terms elsewhere.
The Mets never harbored serious interest in Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, who have Draft-pick compensation tied to them. The Vargas signing pushes their projected Opening Day payroll over $150 million, just a hair shy of last year's $155 million total.
On some levels, the Mets are already familiar with Vargas. He pitched briefly for them in 2007, after then-general manager Omar Minaya -- now a Mets special assistant -- traded for the left-hander. Vargas also spent four years working under Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland in Kansas City, and his agency, CAA, has strong ties with the Mets' front office. In recent years, the two parties have worked out deals for Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier and Tim Tebow.
A person familiar with the situation said Eiland played an instrumental role in convincing the Mets to add Vargas to that list.
"He can pitch," said Callaway, who opposed Vargas the past four years as Cleveland's pitching coach. "He's a guy that goes out there and does his job. Tremendous teammate. He gave us some fits when we were facing him."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.