The Royals nail mediocrity right between the eyes


Whatever. // Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re going to discuss divisional opponents and how they’re positioning themselves for the future, the Kansas City Royals just committed to LHP Jason Vargas for four years and $32 million.

Vargas has the opposite of a Bruce Chen mystique to him. He’s a soft-tossing lefty who appears to get hammered so brutally that it obscures his ability to sop up innings like a reliable but obviously unappealing mop. His mid-80’s fastball is such that it allows for brutally flawed hitters like Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers, who normally can’t get their bat through the zone on time, to golf his offerings out of the state like he was Eddie Cicotte in Game 1 of 1919 World Series…which makes it hard to remember to praise his high-quality changeup.

These kind of damning memories drive out even contradictory anecdotal evidence like Vargas shutting out the putrid 2013 Sox offense for seven innings the only time he faced them, or that his career figures (91 ERA+, no above-average ERA seasons since 2010, no above-average FIP season since 2005) suggests that he’s merely below-average rather than someone who should allow so many home runs to Miguel Cabrera in 2014 that statisticians will have to run regressions specifically to account for Vargas’ existence.

But injections of perspective don’t suddenly redeem the wholly uninspired conservatism that leads the Royals to make a long-term commitment and scrape $32 million from their typically limited budget to make sure Vargas is the soft-tossing lefty at the end of their starting rotation instead of, say, Aaron Laffey. Vargas’ $8 million average annual salary would represent 10% of their 2013 payroll, and sure enough, his signing news conference included admissions that he was effectively replacing Ervin Santana’s season of stumbling into No. 2 starter production.

Vargas could easily outperform the mercurial and still peripherally unimpressive Santana, or prototypical buy-low candidate Josh Johnson in the new season, but the assurance of his blah production does nothing to raise the Royals’ station like the other two might have offered the possibility of. And even his reliability in providing that production is overstated, since he missed almost two months in 2013 with a blood clot in his arm in his left armpit and had reduced velocity and even less impressive results. afterward.

You don’t fear Vargas, and if the Royals treat their limited budget as subjugation to an existence spent paying market value for marginal players, you don’t fear them either.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan