Madison Bumgarner, when healthy, is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, and he appears to be drawing interest from other teams on the trade market. But the San Francisco Giants should hold onto the left-hander, instead of boosting a contending team’s World Series aspirations.
The thinking behind a Bumgarner trade is understandable: he’s a free agent after 2019, and trading him for valued prospects ensures the Giants don’t lose him for nothing when he hits the open market. With that said, how much value could the Giants actually get in a potential Bumgarner trade?
For starters, while a prolific left-hander, Bumgarner hasn’t pitched a complete season since 2016. Making a combined 38 outings over the last two seasons, he hasn’t been the most durable pitcher in the sport, so to speak. With his recent injuries, as well as his upcoming free agency in mind, how could the Giants get a haul for Bumgarner? Sure, for teams who didn’t sign Patrick Corbin and eventually Dallas Keuchel, Bumgarner could be the next best starting pitching option considering his success in years past. For a Giants franchise that has one of the worst farm systems in MLB, trading the 29-year-old could provide an opportunity to add depth to that facet of their organization, but it won’t be anything franchise-altering. And anything short of a king’s ransom for an elite pitcher of Bumgarner’s caliber is not worth pulling the trigger on in a trade.
Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in Giants history and MLB Postseason history. In 16 postseason appearances, 14 of which are starts, Bumgarner owns a 2.11 ERA and 0.90 WHIP and has totaled 87 strikeouts. He has been a part of three Giants World Series championships, has been named the World Series Most Valuable Player, pitched complete game shutouts, and threw five scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against the Kansas City Royals out of the bullpen — which led to the Giants winning their third championship of the decade.
While he may not be as captivating in the regular season, Bumgarner is still a potent force on the hill every fifth day. He owns a career 3.03 ERA, has recorded three 215-plus strikeout seasons — as well as six seasons of at least 190 strikeouts — and can pitch deep into games when he struggles.
The Giants are coming off a second consecutive playoff-deprived season, but, regardless of their struggles, this is a win-now ballclub. Although he’s recovering from a hip injury that may keep him off the field to begin 2019, Buster Posey is still the best catcher in the sport. First baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford are staples at their respective positions and under team-friendly contracts; they’re not going anywhere. Last offseason, the Giants traded top prospect Christian Arroyo and others for Evan Longoria. While he hit an underwhelming .244 and finished with a career-worst .281 on-base percentage, the Giants aren’t going to begone with the corner infielder after one season.
The Giants are also committed to the bulk of their starting rotation. They’re on the hook with Johnny Cueto through 2021 at $21 million a season, and Jeff Samardzija is due $18 million a season through 2020. They also owe closer Mark Melancon $14 million a season through 2020. But, when healthy, the Giants can form one of the best starting rotations in the sport. When on his game, Cueto is one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the sport, Samardzija can pitch deep into games, Derek Holland recorded a 3.57 ERA in 2018, and 23-year-old rookie right-hander Dereck Rodriguez recorded a 2.81 ERA in 21 appearances — 19 of which were starts. The Giants want to just throw away the chance for that rotation to dominate in 2019 by trading Bumgarner?
Now, if the Giants were getting trade offers for Bumgarner and he had two or three years left on his contract, then this would be a different conversation. The Giants still need to, at some point, bolster their farm system, but if you’re going to trade a franchise player, it has to be for an enormous haul. An elite pitcher who hasn’t pitched a complete season in two years and is entering the final year of his contract isn’t going to draw that big of a trade package.
Making the playoffs next season will be difficult for the Giants, considering their competition within the National League West. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies have been in the postseason in each of the last two years, and they’ll likely be in position to do so again in 2019; the NL East has four teams who could be battling for the division crown and a Wild Card seeding (Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets); the St. Louis Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt to a roster that won 88 games in 2018 in an NL Central division that features a team that came one game short of reaching the World Series (Milwaukee Brewers) and the established Chicago Cubs.
The Giants have talent around the diamond and a handful of respected starting pitchers. Solely trading Bumgarner keeps them in MLB purgatory. The southpaw has spent the entirety of his 10-year career with the Giants. Do you really think the Giants are going to just let him walk after 2019, or not clear payroll to re-sign him? Does Farhan Zaidi want his first big move as general manager to be trading away the co-face of the franchise and have that transaction stick with him throughout his Giants’ tenure?
Bumgarner and the Giants are better off together, not apart.