Sweeney does his part in courting Vargas
Former Royal helps convince left-hander that KC is the right place
KANSAS CITY -- Mike Sweeney fell in love with Kansas City during his 13 years with the Royals, so it was natural that he helped recruit their newest starting pitcher, Jason Vargas. They had been teammates in Seattle late in Sweeney's career.
"I played with Mike Sweeney, who, as you know, is a big part of this community, and he told me everything that it had to offer," Vargas said when his four-year deal was announced on Thursday. "I believe in a lot of the things he says and I take them very seriously, so I had all the confidence in the world that this would be a good fit for me."
Sweeney occasionally takes on tasks for general manager Dayton Moore and one was to have several phone conversations with Vargas over the last couple of weeks.
"I reached out to Jason, not only as a friend but on behalf of the Royals, to let him know what a gift it is to play in Kansas City," Sweeney said. "And now with the recent success, I told him, 'You've got arguably the best defensive team in baseball and the best bullpen in baseball and a team that's on the brink of breaking out into a perennial winner."
Sweeney's pitch included not only that Kansas City was a great place to raise children but to play for the Glass family ownership, Moore, manager Ned Yost and the city's fans.
"I think it was a really easy decision for Jason, but, most importantly, the Royals are getting a guy that's going to give them 200 innings a year," Sweeney said. "Jason is one of the best teammates I ever played with, and he's a guy that takes the ball every fifth day, no matter what. He's fearless, he's a competitor, an amazing teammate and he's a winner. I think Royals fans are going to love and embrace Jason Vargas as one of their own."
Sweeney was speaking from California and, across the country in Georgia, Yost sounded just as enthusiastic.
"I'm real pleased. He's got experience, he's a veteran guy that understands the league, he's very durable. He's a 200-innings-plus guy," Yost said.
In his five years in the American League West -- four with the Mariners and 2013 with the Angels -- Vargas played with just one winning team, but still managed a 45-50 record.
"His ERA has been around four (4.07), he's been pitching in a tough division and he's fared very well," Yost said. "He's even going to be tougher in our ballpark with our defense and our expansive outfield."
Vargas was asked to give a scouting report on himself and his assortment of pitches.
"I don't know much about how devastating the repertoire might be, but it's your basics -- fastball, curveball and changeup," he said. "And I just try to go out there and mix it up and keep 'em off balance. Hopefully, me and [catcher] Salvador [Perez] and the defense will all be on the same page, and we'll all go out there and get it done."
He's gotten it done against the Royals throughout his career, with a 6-1 record in seven starts and a 3.23 ERA. Only Billy Butler seemed able to solve the left-hander, going 8-for-17 (.471) against him with three home runs and three doubles.
"That's what I told him when I talked to him, I'm sure glad we don't have to face him anymore," Yost said. "He was glad he didn't have to face Billy anymore."
Moore mentioned Vargas' ability to keep his pitches low and away and to spot his fastball on both sides of the plate.
Yost put it this way: "He's not overpowering, but he's a pitcher, and he commands his fastball, he's got a very good changeup, he's a tremendous competitor. Dayton and I were watching a game last year when he was pitching for the Angels and he had a rough three or four innings, but he was competing. He continued to come out and pitch his tail off in the fifth and the sixth innings, and that's what you're looking for."
Yost said it's too early to say where Vargas will be positioned in the rotation, but dropping the lefty between right-handers James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie seems logical. If another starter turns out to be a left-hander, say Danny Duffy or Will Smith, that would give the rotation a nice left-right exchange.
"We're going to be all right," Yost said. "Ervin Santana did such a great job, [Bruce Chen] did such a great job, and who knows? Only time will tell how that's going to play out. With at least three veteran guys at the top of the order with Shields, Guthrie and now Vargas, I think we're set up OK, and we're pleased about that."
Now the search goes on for an impact bat for maybe the outfield or second base. Recruiter Sweeney is ready to offer a hand.
"I'm hoping the next call they ask me to make is to Robinson Cano or ...," Sweeney said, then chuckled.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.