TEMPE, Ariz. -- This is uncharted territory for Jason Vargas -- not because he's on a new team after spending his last four seasons in Seattle, but because he'll be a free agent at season's end.
Vargas, acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Kendrys Morales on Dec. 19, will make $8.5 million in 2013. That figure is about $1 million more than projected for his final season of arbitration. And this offseason -- given Vargas' consistency and the starting pitching market around him -- he could once again surpass monetary expectations as a free agent.
Barring an unexpected long-term agreement with the Angels, Vargas will head into a free-agent market that doesn't seem to boast any clear-cut, Zack Greinke-like aces, with Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright seemingly among the best of the bunch. James Shields, Ryan Vogelsong, Jon Lester and Roy Halladay all have options for 2014.
Vargas was among baseball's most consistent starters over the last three years, averaging 204 innings while posting a 3.96 ERA. If he can repeat his 2012 season -- career bests in ERA (3.85), WHIP (1.18), innings (217 1/3) and strikeouts (141) -- the 30-year-old left-hander could be setting himself up for a nice payday.
Asked whether pitching with a looming contract situation could affect him on the mound, Vargas said: "I don't think so. I mean, I can't give you a for-sure because I've never experienced it, but there's always going to be distractions along the way. It's how well you deal with them. But for me, it's not something that I'm looking at like it's going to make or break me. I'm just confident in what I can go out there and do. As long as I stay healthy, I mean, that's the whole key. You just have to grind it."