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More On The Jason Vargas/Kendrys Morales Trade

Harry How

Think of this as the Mariners having traded J.J. Putz, Sean Green, Jeremy Reed, and Luis Valbuena for Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Aaron Heilman, Maikel Cleto, and a player to be named later, with the "player" being Kendrys Morales and the "later" being "in four years". What a deal! That took some foresight.

I don't think it's fair to say that Jason Vargas symbolized the last few Mariners teams, because the last few Mariners teams weren't very good and for the most part, Jason Vargas was fine. He worked out a hell of a lot better than I think most of us expected him to when he came over in that package. But for the last few years, it felt sometimes like the Mariners' only starter was Jason Vargas, at least on days Felix wasn't pitching. And he represented an era of baseball in Safeco Field, an era that might now be coming to a close given the dimension adjustments. If Adrian Beltre or Mike Cameron represent the offensive side of things, Vargas is there representing the other side, the side that benefited.

Vargas' home/road ERA splits as a Mariner are hysterical. The Mariners' ballpark allowed that to happen, as it suited a guy like Jason Vargas perfectly. When word got out that the fences were finally coming in, many of us gave our first or second thoughts to Vargas, out of concern and nervous curiosity. But with Safeco becoming a different ballpark, it feels appropriate that Jason Vargas won't have to stick around to live the unwelcome change. He'll leave a place that's becoming less pitcher-friendly for a place that's pitcher-friendly, with an outfield that also projects to be rather pitcher-friendly.

Guys like Vargas might not be such great fits for the Mariners anymore. It's not like Safeco is suddenly going to turn into a hitters' paradise, but it'll be less extreme and less skewed, so in that sense, sure, it was the right time to move Vargas elsewhere. He wasn't the first guy to benefit from Safeco to an extreme degree, but he might've been among the very last. The chapter is closing, or at least we all hope that it is.

I enjoyed Jason Vargas. I grew tired of watching and analyzing Jason Vargas -- I think we all did -- but that was only partially his fault, and more the fault of the team for never achieving anything. I remember the feeling when I first noticed that Vargas has an outstanding changeup, and I remember the feeling when he started leaning on a cutter, and when he adjusted his mechanics. There has been some fun analysis, even if it wound up being insignificant, but Vargas started 110 games with the Mariners, meaning I wrote about Jason Vargas at least a hundred times or so. Almost certainly more. There is only so much to be said about Jason Vargas, and I think we've entirely said it. Nobody wants to dig into his numbers these days, and nobody wants to read about the digging.

It doesn't help that most of the jokes I've wanted to make about Vargas are virtually unpublishable, reduced to survival within private communication. There are probably five or six things I wish I could write that I would never actually write, and two or three of them have to do with Vargas. He's an off-color gold mine. But this is a personal grievance.

To my knowledge, Vargas was just a good Mariner. There was never any drama, he always just did his job, and as he grew more comfortable and more experienced he became more of a representative veteran. The worst thing anybody has to say about Jason Vargas is that he struggled to pitch well on the road. I don't think anybody is happy to see him go.

But the trade is fine, because Kendrys Morales is fine, and you shouldn't feel bad for Vargas for being uprooted. He's going to a better baseball team and he's going to where he went to college. Vargas as an Angel might not be just a one-year thing. Not that that's a point of concern for us right now, or anymore.

This does have the look of a lateral move for the Mariners, in terms of projecting wins and losses. If Morales is better than Vargas, he's not better by a lot, and now the rotation is even thinner. But this is a move that functions to help the lineup, and it also functions to at least temporarily calm a frustrated, desperate fan base. More and more people were clamoring for the Mariners to do something, to bring in a bat capable of mashing dingers, and Morales can do that. He will do that! probably. You don't make moves to appease the fans, because what truly appeases the fans is team success however it's achieved, but the Mariners have made people happier, or less unhappy, without doing something irresponsible. That's been the challenge, and that remains the challenge going forward. If you think about it, it's funny that people feel better about the Mariners now that they're approximately zero games better than they were, but emotions exist and people have only so much patience.

I wonder if this will come with a side benefit as the Mariners remain involved in free agency. Morales is a known, visible guy, someone proven who's going to hit in the middle of the Mariners' lineup. That might make free agents more amenable to signing, in some small way, because they see the Mariners addressing their most obvious flaw. Morales hits dingers and accumulates RBI. Players love that. At the least, this won't hurt. The Mariners can sell a beautiful ballpark, with adjusted dimensions, a young core, an improved offense, and Felix. I understand one of the Angels' selling points with free agents was the opportunity to play beside Mike Trout. The Mariners can offer a similar opportunity with Felix, and Morales makes the offense look a lot more legitimate. The holes you're tempted to poke in this are holes a free agent probably wouldn't poke.

I don't know how much defense Morales is capable of playing anymore, I don't know what the Mariners are going to do with Justin Smoak, and I don't know if Morales is in some way going to make Jesus Montero better. I don't even know for sure if Morales is going to be good, since we can never know that about anyone. I do know that Morales is a switch-hitter with a career 119 OPS+, and Ichiro, for example, has a career 113 OPS+. Billy Butler has a career 123 OPS+. Morales doesn't produce in the way that John Jaso produces, but lateral move or no, I'm just looking forward to the Mariners having a hitter. A real-life, legitimate, albeit second-tier threat. This is going to be fun, unless it sucks.

And I'm looking forward to seeing what else the Mariners do. It feels so shitty American to immediately move on to thinking about what we get next, but the Mariners didn't lose any flexibility here. They actually gained some, by a little bit. They can get a Michael Bourn, or a good starting pitcher, or even both! The Mariners can complete a half-decent baseball team. Now that we're all a little less on edge, it's evident there are good ways this could go. A deliberate offseason and a bad offseason are not necessarily one and the same.