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A Potential Upgrade for Kennys Vargas

Posted by Andrew Thares , 19 February 2018 · 1,192 views

rounding third kennys vargas
The first few seasons of Kennys Vargas’ career have been a bit of a disappointment for the Twins. Vargas came up in 2014 as a player with a lot of potential, and was considered by many to be the inevitable replacement for Joe Mauer at first base.

Despite a few bright moments with the bat, Vargas hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations. Over his 859 career plate appearances, Vargas has a slash line of .253/.314/.444, with 35 home runs and an even 100 wRC+. While these numbers aren’t terrible, they are no where near what you would hope for from a first baseman.

The Twins do still have 4 years of team control of Vargas, but now might be the time for the Twins to look to move on from him. A few teams that I could see drawing interest in Vargas would be the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.

Now where would the Twins go to get this potential upgrade for Kennys Vargas. For that, we can look at our neighbors to the East, in the Milwaukee Brewers’ right-handed hitting first basemen Jesus Aguilar.

After struggling in very limited playing time with Cleveland, Aguilar was claimed off waivers by Milwaukee prior to the 2017 season. In his first season with the Brewers, Aguilar had some success, posting a .265/.331/.505 slash line and a wRC+ of 112. He did this in limited playing time, seeing just 311 plate appearances, despite appearing in 133 games. This was mostly due to the fact that he spent the season in a platoon with Eric Thames.

There are many similarities between Kennys Vargas and Jesus Aguilar. Both players are big, power-hitting first basemen, who have never been given an opportunity to be an everyday player at the Major League level, but have had success at it in the minors. Both players are nearly identical in age (Aguilar is one month older than Vargas), though, Aguilar is controllable for and additional season. They are also very similar defensively, with Vargas having a DRS (defensive runs saved above average) of 1 over 756 career innings at 1st, while Aguilar has a DRS of 0 over 629 career innings at first.

Despite all these similarities, there is one key difference between the two, and that is their ability to hit left-handed pitching. Last year, Vargas struggled mightily against lefties, positing an abysmal 56 wRC+ against them, while Aguilar posted a very strong 127 wRC+ against lefties. Aguilar's ability to hit lefties would bring a big upgrade to the Twins, who collectively hit for a 96 wRC+ versus lefties in 2017, compared to a 104 wRC+ against right handed pitching. This could also play out big in the long term if they are unable to resign Brian Dozier after 2018, as he provides much of the Twins production against left-handed pitching.

Jesus Aguilar can hold his own against right-handed pitching as well. Last season, Aguilar gathered a .806 OPS, and a wRC+ of 104 against his weaker side. This bodes well for his chances to become an everyday threat in the Twins lineup.

The Statcast metrics appear to favor Aguilar over Vargas as well. In 2017, Aguilar’s xwOBA was a respectable .330, while Varges’ was a mere .303. A lot of this can be attributed to Aguilar’s 89.2 MPH average exit velocity, compared to Varges’ 86.3 MPH average exit velocity.

Here is are a couple charts that compare the quality of contact that Jesus Aguilar and Kennys Varges made in 2017.

Jesus Aguilar 2017 Radial Chart

Kennys Vargas 2017 Radial Chart

For a little reference on how to read these charts, they show the six different qualities of contact defined by Statcast. Each dot measures the launch angle and exit velocity of a batted ball event by the hitter. The top three categories (Barrels, Solid Contact and Flares & Burners) usually result in hits, while the bottom three categories (Topped, Hit Under and Weak Contact) usually result in outs.

From these charts we can see that Jesus Aguilar does a better job of hitting for quality contact than does Kennys Vargas. On 44% of his batted balls, Aguilar made contact in one of the top three batted ball categories, while Vargas only managed to do this on just 36% of his batted balls. We can also see that Vargas has real trouble with hitting too many grounders, as he hit toppers on roughly 39% of his batted balls.

So, why might the Brewers be willing to trade Jesus Aguilar? Well, last season, to make room for Aguilar at first, the Brewers would often move Thames to one of the corner outfield positions. However, with the Brewers’ recent additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, it is hard to imagine them employing that same strategy again this year, with what will be a very crowed outfield. With the Brewers not having the luxury of the DH, they might look to move Aguilar as there is simply no room for him. This means it would be the perfect opportunity for the Twins to swoop in and potentially buy low.

Pulling off this move to acquire Jesus Aguilar, and subsequently trading Kennys Vargas, could be a big move that will not only add to the Twins bench this season, but could provide a better option long term at first, if Joe Mauer walks after 2018. At the same rate, this acquisition would require a lot of moving parts for what is only a marginal upgrade to the roster.

So, what do you think? Is making a move for Jesus Aguilar something that the Twins should pursue, or would they be better off staying put with the way things are, and seeing if Kennys Vargas can develop into the player many hoped he would become?

  • Cory Engelhardt likes this

That's very detailed, and very well layed out. But,it begs the question, what of Miguel Sano? I imagine the answer would be simpler without the alleged incident and its potential for suspension. But it seems apparent that he is not going to be able to play third base with any regularity in the immediate future. Nor are there many instances of players working themselves back into shape during the regular season. That leaves only two choices. A 60 day DL to work himself into shape suitable enough to play 3rd base, which likely would not fly by the union, or lots of DH time. The third posibblility is a suspension of course. He could use that time to get into playing shape. Or then again, he may not.
Yes, the two big questions for the Twins are (1) The Future of Joe Mauer and (2) What to Do With Sano.

If he starts the season, you have Vargas make the team for sure. But then, you ask, what happens when he returns.

The need for Vargas is certainly first base depth. Yes, you can play Sano there. Kepler played 1st in the minors. You don't need Eduardo or Ehire playing first. Garver is the backup catcher.

Vargas also has to be hungry. He is playing for a job with the Twins and a job beyond in 2017. His prospect of being at first for the Twins in the distant future is zilch. Rooker and Diaz are both probably ahead of him, just not there yet. Sano will have to be moved eventually, but to fulltime DH (another Vargas only position) or 1B is the question.

Hopefully Vargas shows hunger. Gibson, too, entering free agnecy. Ervin Santana is in the hot seat, too. Either pitching strong enough to get the extension, or a solid multi-year free agent contract. Odorizzi also needs to pitch well to win in his last arbitration year.

Plus Dozier needs to shine.

Lots of incentives for players to play hard. Maybe they play too hard and suffer. But should be an interesting 2019 in Twins land.

Give me one of the following Logan Morrison, Mark Reynolds or Corey Dickerson. Or if you want to gamble sign Jose Bautista.


I have always liked Vargas. It just seems like he has never got a fair chance to evolve into the great hitter he could become. His best bet might be going to Korea or Japan and make some big money while he can.

Andrew Thares
Feb 20 2018 09:29 PM


Give me one of the following Logan Morrison, Mark Reynolds or Corey Dickerson. Or if you want to gamble sign Jose Bautista.


I have always liked Vargas. It just seems like he has never got a fair chance to evolve into the great hitter he could become. His best bet might be going to Korea or Japan and make some big money while he can.

I would maybe take a chance on LoMo or Dickerson if they were really cheap, but I'll take a hard pass on Reynolds or Bautista.