It looks like the biggest news of the day is the acquisition of Claudio Vargas, and I'm sure that's plenty underwhelming to most. Vargas is a good bet to outproduce replacement-level pitchers like Mike Burns in the rotation, and the cost was just a minor-league utility player in Vinny Rottino-- who has little value to the Brewer organization right now (maybe he'll resurface as a coach in a few seasons, who knows).
It's been a frustrating few months to watch ineffective starting pitching, but I think Doug Melvin made the right choice here to not go out and buy a rental for the rest of this season. He investigated adding a pitcher who could be around for 2010, but it appears that was not exactly feasible. Without a deal for a stud pitcher like Cliff Lee or Halladay, Melvin made an offer for Brian Bannister of the Royals and was probably in extensive discussions for other pitchers. Things apparently just didn't work out.
In all it's probably not a bad strategy. Struggling at 3.5 games out right now, there's a chance the Brewers rally and make the playoffs but a 1 win upgrade for the rest of the season wasn't worth losing one of the nearly MLB-ready prospects. The options were probably to go for it all-out, stand pat, or get someone who isn't just a rental-- and I'm glad they didn't burn a valuable piece on a moderate upgrade like Washburn.
So where do we stand now? A pretty much straight-up average team looking to get hot and back into the playoff race. It's not out of the question to see a .500 team catch some breaks and win more games than should be expected. And there's still a chance to add another starter in August through the waiver deadline.
And at worst, the Brewers totally fall out of contention and start experimenting for next season. Gamel and Escobar will be ready to fill full-time major league roles at the start of next season, and the only major free-agents are Hoffman, Cameron, Kendall, and Looper. This team will have a ton of valuable trading chips in the offseason and will probably be able to acquire a starting pitcher to make this team a very realistic contender. Beyond those top two prospects, the catching duo of Salome and Lucroy, as well as Green and Cain, will play a role in the 2010 season-- maybe as major league contributors, and maybe as trade pieces.
So though it's disappointing as a fan when the answer to "Buy or sell?" is "Neither!", it's hard for me to complain. My main hope is that Vargas and pitchers like Burns don't end up blocking someone like Nick Green, a righty starter at AAA who is recovering from an injury but has put up his usual 6:2 strikeout to walk rate at AAA while getting a pretty healthy amount of ground balls. Guys like Green, Chris Cody, and Chase Wright should get chances to pitch in the majors until Suppan and Bush are able to pitch again.
So to wrap up, Vargas is a pretty solid stopgap. He's not going to give you many innings, but he has solid skills, strikes out quite a few batters, and doesn't walk all that many despite his tendency to nibble at the strike zone. Whether he's used as a reliever or starter, he's a free major league arm with a track record of a little success, and he was obtained for free. And maybe there is a chance he becomes more effective, he's always had good stuff, featuring a low 90s fastball, a quailty slider and a decent change. He's not the guy we were looking for or the guy Doug Melvin was looking for, but he's a decent arm for free, so it's hard to complain.