To say things are getting weird down at 24 Willie Mays Plaza would be a massive understatement.
You can blame injuries all you want, but at this point of the 2018 season, the San Francisco Giants have underachieved, and remarkably, despite being 35-38, they came into Tuesday’s game against the Miami Marlins only 5.5 games back of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.
With a pitching rotation that’s been patched up with young guys like Andrew Suarez, Dereck Rodriquez, Chris Stratton, and Ty Blach, I’m sure the stability which Madison Bumgarner’s return brings to the staff has eased manager Bruce Bochy’s stress level.
Except, maybe not. Bumgarner is 0-2 in three starts with a 4.67 ERA since returning from a broken pinky, and the velocity on his fastball is peaking at 91 mph. The life on his pitches just hasn’t been there yet. The Giants certainly feel that Bumgarner will shed the rust from not pitching and return to his dominant form, but will it be enough to make them open up the wallet and offer him a long-term deal?
Of course, Giants fans are loyal and hold Bumgarner close to their heart. They probably think I’m asinine for even asking the question, but for a team that already boasts the second-highest payroll in baseball, given the season the Giants are heading for, they should think seriously about A) trading the 6-foot-4 icon in the offseason, or B) trying to structure a deal that won’t tie them up for the next five years.
Bumgarner — who turns 29 August 1 — will certainly look to cash in after the 2019 season, and — who knows? — maybe the Giants give him a fat raise this offseason. Is it the smart thing to do, though? I’m not so sure it is.
For one, the Giants are an older bunch that will certainly need to fill holes in right and left field. Two, they’ve been burned before with dishing out big money to pitchers.
After Barry Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million dollar deal in 2006 – the largest ever for a pitcher at the time — he never posted an ERA lower than 4.17, didn’t make the 2010 postseason roster, and with the exception of Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS, and outpitching Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, he underwhelmed in his time with the Giants.
Matt Cain? He signed a six-year, $161 million dollar deal in April of 2012. In my opinion, a good move, but I still wondered if the Giants were paying him for what he’d done in the past. That season, Cain was lights out, going 16-5 with a 2.79 and living up to the “Horse” nickname, highlighted with his perfect game against the Houston Astros and his second World Series championship.
The next season, though, was the beginning of the end for Cain. After that magical 2012 season, Cain’s elbow issues began to take hold. His ERA would never be lower than 4.00 (2013), and over his last three seasons in a Giants uniform, he went a combined 9-13, with a 5.62 ERA.
Before I continue, I know Bumgarner hasn’t had any major arm issues in the past. He’s country strong and has the makeup to be durable in the future, but don’t you have to wonder if his best days are behind him? Heading into his 30’s, is he worth $25-$30 million a year?
Just look around baseball over the last 20 years and look at the contracts given to pitchers. Kevin Brown, Johan Santana, Jason Schmidt, Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez — among others (Mike Hampton, anyone?) — failed to live up to the mega-deals they signed.
Guys like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw have been exceptions when it comes to long-term deals, but it’s a risk to roll out the Brinks truck for a player who plays once every five days. It’s risky business, even for Bumgarner, who’ll one day have a statue down at AT&T Park.
Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are currently making nearly a combined $40 million in 2019 and 2012, and they’ve each spent their fair share of time on the disabled list.
Who knows where the Giants will be in a year? If it wasn’t for the NL West being mediocre, they’d already be in sell-mode. They have nine players with guaranteed contracts heading into 2019 that’ll account for $129 million.
Giants’ Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer is probably losing sleep thinking about Bumgarner and what he may command. The word “rebuild” doesn’t exist with this organization, and the backlash this organization would get for trading Bumgarner would top the vitriol they got for trading fan favorite Matt Williams in 1997.
All things come to an end in sports, and the wiser decision may be to shop Bumgarner, or let him go. With a slew of young arms, and the championship window nearly shut, the Giants will be wise to not commit money to another aging pitcher.
Even if that pitcher is Madison Bumgarner.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from noon to 3 p.m. on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.