If the Mets have serious designs on competing for a World Series, the stated goal by rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, they can't possibly plan on having Jason Vargas be their fifth starter the rest of the season.
After Vargas' latest debacle, in which he recorded just one out, was pulled after six batters and allowed four runs on two hits and three walks while throwing just 17 of his 36 pitches for strikes, it will be difficult for the Mets to justify even sending the lefty out for one more start.
"He's just not getting outs at this point," Mickey Callaway said of Vargas. "That's really all I can say."
In the short-term, because of an off day this Thursday, the Mets can skip Vargas' next turn and keep everyone else on normal rest, though Callaway said that would have to be discussed. Long-term, the Mets' problem is their lack of options.
Corey Oswalt, who would've been the top internal option to replace Vargas, relieved Vargas in the first and proceded to throw 90 pitches in 3.2 innings, allowing five runs on six hits and four walks. Dallas Keuchel will be brought up even more now as he remains a free agent, but whether team and player can reach an agreement that makes sense for both sides remains to be seen.
SNY's Andy Martino wrote during the week that Van Wagenen was still talking with Keuchel's agent, Scott Boras, to try to find common ground on the pitcher's value, and Martino noted that Keuchel becomes more appealing to the Mets every time Vargas takes the mound.
For now, the Mets must deal with this internally.
"We have to have other options," Callaway said when asked if there have been discussions about Vargas' role. "Our other option came in tonight after him and threw (90) pitches in three and (two thirds,) and gave up five. So that's kind of where we're at. Keep trying to get these guys to improve and throw the ball over the plate and be more effective. That's our job."
One way the Mets could go is to shift either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman to the rotation. If they went that route, one of them would need time to get stretched out, and the bullpen then becomes weaker.
"I think that (Lugo) and Gsellman are always in the discussion when we start thinking about things," Callaway said. "It's not just a reaction to tonight. When we're sitting around talking, we always know those two guys are options at some point. When you make a move like that, you affect other parts of the team. You take one of those guys out of the bullpen, then all of a sudden you probably need another quality bullpen arm. Those are discussions we have about everything, and it kind of always comes back to how we originally set this team up because that's probably our best bullpen."
Callaway was ejected after pulling Vargas for arguing balls and strikes. The manager said from the side he thought some of the called balls looked good, and felt after talking with some of his players that he had to defend Vargas, who maybe got squeezed by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez on the walk to Nick Markakis. But aside from that, Vargas simply couldn't throw strikes when he needed to.
What makes the outing worse is that Vargas came across as delusional after the game when describing his performance, saying he was "confused" about the evening in response to a question about whether he's worried about his spot in the rotation.
"I'm just more focused on trying to understand what happened tonight and not too focused on what's gonna happen in the future," Vargas said. "Just kind of confused."
SNY's Steve Gelbs posed the right follow-up question, asking Vargas what he was confused by.
"Just the way the inning played out. I didn't really feel like I was struggling in the fact that I was out of sorts," Vargas answered. "There were some balls hit on the ground and that's really it."
Vargas said he "wasn't out there long enough" to assess what was off with him Saturday, and at one point he said, "I thought I made some good pitches."
Confusing, indeed. What isn't, though, is the problem the Mets have with the No. 5 spot in their rotation. The fact that they have very few options may buy Vargas more time. Callaway at one point mentioned Vargas' improved second half from 2018 to convey that Vargas has shown an ability to provide quality outings as a Met.
But the Mets are trying to win now, and if they want to achieve the lofty goals they set for themselves this season, they're going to have to find a solution sooner than later.