Monday's decision does not preclude the Angels from pursuing a multi-year deal with Vargas, who had a 9-8 record and 4.02 earned-run average in 24 starts during an injury-plagued 2013 season, and there appears to be interest in such a deal on both sides. But beginning Tuesday, Vargas can negotiate with all 30 teams.
"I don't feel like this closes the door on the Angels' relationship with Jason, and I believe Jason understands that," Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "We've continued an open rhetoric with Jason throughout. He knows we like him. There's a mutual interest in both sides connecting in the future."
The Angels did not make the $14.1-million qualifying offer to Vargas because it would push them right up against the $189-million luxury tax threshold for 2014. They would prefer to sign Vargas to something closer to $10 million per year.
Vargas sat out from mid-June to mid-August because of surgery to remove a blood clot in his left armpit, but he has been one of the more consistent left-handers, with a 51-58 record and 4.30 ERA in 174 games over eight seasons.
With $126.5 million committed to 10 players under contract for 2014 and another $20 million or so needed to retain six to eight arbitration-eligible players, the Angels are not expected to make another huge free-agent splash after spending $365 million on sluggers
They could make a run at Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who is expected to be posted by the Rakuten
But part of the appeal of Tanaka, outside of the 25-year-old's 94-mph fastball and a devastating split-fingered fastball, is that his posting fee, which some predict could approach $75 million, does not count toward a team's luxury-tax payroll.
The competition for Tanaka will be fierce, but his contract could resemble something closer to the six-year, $56-million deal
Dipoto will likely spend much of the off-season pursuing deals for young pitchers, using players such as