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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #51: Ildemaro Vargas

The much-traveled Vargas returned to Arizona.

MLB: SEP 30 Diamondbacks at Giants Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Rating: 2.28
  • Age: turned 30 on July 16
  • 2021 Stats:
  • 2021 Earnings: Pre-arbitration
  • 2022 Status: Elected free agency

There were a couple of things which surprised me about Vargas when I started researching him. Firstly, his age. If I had to guess I’d have said he was maybe... 26? He’s only a couple of months younger than Christian Walker. I also had not realized that Vargas had been on a bit of a tour, since being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks on August 6 last year. I thought he was still floating around on the Arizona farm somewhere. Not quite the case:

  • August 11, 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks traded 2B Ildemaro Vargas to Minnesota Twins for cash.
  • September 5, 2020 Chicago Cubs claimed 2B Ildemaro Vargas off waivers from Minnesota Twins.
  • May 17, 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates claimed 2B Ildemaro Vargas off waivers from Chicago Cubs.
  • June 2, 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates traded 2B Ildemaro Vargas to Arizona Diamondbacks for cash.

We then designated him for assignment on June 19. He cleared waivers and was sent to Reno. Vargas was recalled one more on September 19, but became a minor-league free agent on October. I think the above transaction history is an accurate summary of Vargas’s status. He now has completed five major-league seasons, and only once (2019) has the 30-year-old had as many as a hundred PA. That he couldn’t stick on the 89-loss Twins or the 91-loss Cubs likely says a bit - as does the fact that the 110-loss Diamondbacks were still willing to pay actual money for him.

The results this year were particularly feeble. Over 83 PA between the Cubs, Pirates and D-backs, he almost hit like a pitcher: .156/.217/.221 for a .438 OPS. In 2019, he was almost decent, posting a .712 OPS for the D-backs. But since then, over 58 major-league games, Vargas’s OPS+ is just 29. Among the 491 players with 125+ PA over the past two seasons, that ranks Ildemaro... 490th, ahead of only the Phillies’ Scott Kingery, and his 23 OPS+. That’s not good, even allowing for Vargas’s positional flexibility. For over that time, he has started MLB games at all four infield positions, in left-field, and in what surely must have been a Chicago Cubs troll-job, as designated hitter in his final game for them.

Random fun fact. He’s kinda the anti-Tim Locastro. Vargas is 7th among active position players for most career PAs without being hit by a pitch, on 381 PA. Leading that list is another ex-Diamondback, albeit one who never played in the majors for us: Trayce Thompson’s 624. He ended up on the Cubs this year too, though never overlapped with Vargas. But that I’m digging into such things, indicates how little I have to say, especially since I am following the maxim handed down by my mother: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

He had two stints with the team in 2021. The first came in early June, replacing Domingo Leyba on the roster. It opened brightly, with a two-hit game against the Mets. But he then went 1-for-13 over the next couple of weeks, the D-backs going 0-9 in his appearances. Oh, hang on. This was June. They were pretty much 0-9 in anyone’s appearances. Vargas was designated for assignment on June 19, to make way for an extra bullpen arm, but cleared waivers this time and was sent to Reno. He came back up on September 20, and again, started okay with a modest three-game hitting streak. Once more, it didn’t last, and he finished the season on a 1-for-16 run.

He’s now a free agent, and I imagine him roaming the countryside like a baseball ronin, looking for a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Switch-hitting infielders with position flexibility are always needed somewhere. But if his time in Arizona is indeed over, it will likely be as one of the least memorable members of the five-season club here.