One of the most talked-about players at this year’s trade deadline was left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who is currently in the final year of his contract with the San Francisco Giants. The 29-year-old is having a mediocre season by his standards thus far in 2019, posting a 6-7 record with a 3.74 ERA in 23 starts. While he’s still heralded as one of the game’s most dominant left-handed starters, Bumgarner is a far cry from what he was in 2016, when he won 15 games and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting.
In the early stages of the 2019 season, it seemed to be all but a formality that Bumgarner would be traded by the deadline. The Giants entered the season with a new president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, who formerly served as the general manager of the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Zaidi was brought in with the goal of rebuilding a Giants team that was coming off back-to-back losing seasons.
Zaidi certainly had his work cut out for him. Not only did he have to battle the trade winds surrounding the team’s ace, but he was also handed a roster that is littered with troublesome long-term contracts. The Giants currently have Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Brandon Belt signed to multi-year, big-money deals. All six players mentioned are over 30 years old and several of them, most notably Cueto, Posey, and Samardzija, have missed a lot of games due to injuries over the past two seasons. To make matters worse, four of those six players (Posey, Samardzija, Belt, Crawford) have full no-trade clauses in their contracts.
It’s a financial nightmare for Zaidi, who’s being tasked with making the Giants competitive again while also rebuilding their farm system to set the team up for the future. Hence, the trade talks surrounding Bumgarner began to ramp up as the 2019 season got underway. After all, what better way to trigger the rebuilding process than obtaining a king’s ransom for a star pitcher who is in the final year of his deal?
That seemed to be the plan until the Giants started to completely alter the course of their season. They propelled themselves right back into playoff contention by going 19-6 in July. The Dodgers still have a vice grip on the NL West, but the Giants now find themselves just 2.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card seeding.
The amazing run the Giants went on in July made the Bumgarner situation infinitely more complicated because now Zaidi was faced with an even harder decision. Does he trade Bumgarner for prospects when the team is in the middle of a playoff race? Or, does he hang onto the ace knowing full well that Bumgarner might leave in free agency?
Ultimately, Bumgarner wasn’t traded, and the Giants will now continue their hunt for the playoffs with the roster they have. Zaidi took calls on Bumgarner, without question, but at the end of the day, he didn’t receive an offer that he deemed worthy for his team’s ace.
Many around baseball were shocked that Bumgarner stayed put, including some of his teammates. Longoria, speaking to Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated, thought that the Giants ace was likely going to be traded.
“It was probably like 60–40 in my eyes,” he says. “Sixty percent thought he was gonna get traded, just because of some of the things Farhan has said since the beginning of the year. I just thought he might get the opportunity to rebuild the farm system.” He speculates that perhaps Zaidi retained Bumgarner either because the team intends to re-sign him or “simply out of respect for Madison, giving him and [longtime manager Bruce Bochy, who has said he will retire after this season] and us another opportunity to go out there and do something special.”
It became clear that Zaidi was asking for the baseball equivalent of “all the tea in China,” as was highlighted by the post-deadline comments of several general managers around baseball.
“I felt comfortable walking away,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after coming up empty.
“I’m not disappointed,” said Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski.
St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations, John Mozeliak, did acknowledge a “high level of frustration,” but said in the end the price to upgrade was too high.
The question now is whether Zaidi did the right thing in hanging onto Bumgarner for the remainder of the 2019 season? In the short term, the unwillingness to trade him will make the Giants and, more importantly, their fans extremely happy. The team is now unburdened by the constant trade talks and are free to just play baseball and continue their run towards a potential playoff berth.
However, the long-term ramifications of Zaidi’s decision are yet to be determined. It’s not 100 percent guaranteed that Bumgarner will leave in the upcoming offseason, but with Bochy retiring and the Giants looking to rebuild with a young core, it’s unlikely that the team will be eager to hand out yet another long-term contract to a 30-plus-year-old player. The Giants are in a veritable contract hell right now, and although Bumgarner is regarded as a hero in San Francisco, it may be more prudent for the Giants to let another team invest a lot of money in the big left-hander.
Regardless of how the 2019 season ends, the Giants will likely, at the very least, extend a qualifying offer to Bumgarner in the offseason. That way, should Bumgarner sign elsewhere, the Giants would receive a first-round draft pick as compensation. It’s not nearly as consolatory as receiving a big package of prospects, but hopefully an exciting playoff run to cap off 2019 will help ease the sting of a potential exit by Bumgarner.