12/19/12 9:30 PM ET
Halos get Vargas from Mariners for Kendrys
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
On Wednesday, general manager Jerry Dipoto cashed in on that flexibility, sending switch-hitting designated hitter Kendrys Morales to the Mariners in exchange for left-handed starting pitcher Jason Vargas.
The one-for-one deal, involving two players heading into their final season before free agency, fills out the Angels' rotation and completes a wall-to-wall pitching makeover -- without having to give up Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo.
"That was very much a part of the plan," Dipoto said on a conference call shortly after the deal was announced. "Dating back to the start of this offseason, and even as we were trailing towards the end of the 2012 season, it's been a priority for us to keep as much of our young nucleus in place as possible."
Now the Angels, Dipoto said, are "in all likelihood" done making moves this offseason. In two months, the second-year GM has signed potential closer Ryan Madson, traded for starting pitcher Tommy Hanson -- by sending reliever Jordan Walden to the Braves -- then acquired lefty reliever Sean Burnett and starter Joe Blanton after scoffing at Zack Greinke's contractual demands.
Then, when it looked like he was done, Dipoto signed Hamilton on Thursday and used the excess to get Vargas six days later, capping an offseason that saw the Angels fortify a shaky bullpen, improve an already-dangerous lineup and build more -- albeit less-heralded -- starting-pitching depth.
"This just puts us in a better position to go out and field a roster that works," Dipoto said, "to give Mike [Scioscia] the ability to manage a roster that's fluid, rather than constantly running into a road block."
Acquiring Vargas, who has compiled 611 innings and a 3.96 ERA the last three years, creates a ripple effect for the Angels.
It gives them probably the best defensive outfield in baseball, with Mike Trout likely starting in left field, Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right. On a pitching staff with four starters (Jered Weaver, Hanson, Blanton and Vargas) and two late-inning relievers (Madson and Ernesto Frieri) who are prone to giving up fly balls, that's no small thing.
It gives Scioscia plenty of flexibility with his lineup, especially at DH. Trumbo is expected to get most of the at-bats there, but his ability to play first base and both outfield corner spots allows Scioscia to also use Albert Pujols and Hamilton at DH as needed.
And it maximizes the Halos' pitching depth. With Vargas filling up the staff, 24-year-old Garrett Richards will likely start the season in Triple-A -- though Dipoto left open the possibility of Richards competing for a bullpen spot -- with the likes of Jerome Williams, Barry Enright, Brad Mills and a host of others providing additional depth.
"The likelihood of having five starters go post-to-post and not miss a day is unlikely; it doesn't happen very often," Dipoto said. "So you want to have that depth."
Morales, who gives the Mariners some much-needed power shortly after moving the fences in at Safeco Field, is projected to make about $5 million in his final year before free agency. Vargas, a Southern California product who teamed with Weaver at Long Beach State University, should make something in the neighborhood of $7.5 million, pushing the Angels' payroll slightly north of the franchise-record $160 million mark it finished at last season.
Vargas, 29, went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA this past season, posting a career high in innings (217 1/3) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.56), but also giving up 35 homers in a spacious park. In seven career games (six starts) at Angel Stadium, he's posted a 2.27 ERA.
"It's a great opportunity for me to be with an organization that's committed to winning now, obviously, and putting a team on the field that is going to be premier from top to bottom," said Vargas, who heard from Weaver almost immediately after the trade went down. "It's exciting for me."
Originally a second-round Draft pick by the Marlins in 2004, Vargas posted a 4.03 ERA in 17 games (13 starts) as a rookie in '05. He split the following year in the Majors and Minors, was traded to the Mets in November 2006, pitched mostly in Triple-A in '07 and missed all of the '08 season due to hip labrum surgery.
The ensuing offseason, the Mariners acquired Vargas as part of a three-team, 11-player trade. And beginning in 2010, he found his groove as a consistent strike-throwing, innings-eating, changeup-featuring starter.
"We knew going in that we were looking for that one more piece for the starting rotation, and we feel like Jason fits us very well," Dipoto said. "He's a steady, durable guy who's proven capable of holding those innings. His style suits our ballpark and our team very well."
Morales, originally signed out of Cuba in '05, made an inspiring comeback from a couple of ankle surgeries that forced him to miss almost two full seasons, batting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS in 2012.
By the end of the year, he was starting to resemble the MVP candidate of '09. His power had returned, his timing was on and even his defense at first was better than expected. But 2013 -- given his agent, Scott Boras, and his desire to be more than a full-time DH -- was likely to be his last season with the Angels. And by trading him Wednesday, the Halos' rotation got deeper and their lineup became more functional.
"Obviously they made the decision to make the trade," Morales told Mariners reporters through an interpreter. "I've always defended the jersey I'm wearing at the time 100 percent. Now it's my responsibility to do the same for the Seattle Mariners and do everything I can to help this team win."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.