AT&T PARK — For the first time in three Februarys, Madison Bumgarner was on hand for fan fest weekend, the annual reminder that spring training is about to arrive.
During media day on Friday, Bumgarner held court in one of the fourth-floor suites, overlooking the diamond and the sweeping vista of the bay. The left-handed starter sported a Carhartt beanie, covering up his shortest haircut in recent memory. In the wake of a nightmare 2017, Bumgarner said there was nothing to read into the new look for a new year.
“I just cut it,” Bumgarner. “Yeah. No story behind it. I just got tired of long hair and cut it.”
Bumgarner also insisted there was no big story behind his rare appearance at fan fest. The speculation has been that the recent no-shows have been related to his contract situation with the San Francisco Giants, his only major league employer.
“I wanted to make a point to be here — especially with new faces [on the roster] — and after the year we had last year,” Bumgarner said. “I’m excited to get here and interact with the fans and just get started.”
Bumgarner, whose 2017 was spoiled by a dirt bike spill that limited him to 17 starts, is pitching on one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. He’ll be playing on a $12 million club option in the upcoming season. The Giants hold an identical option for 2019.
“You’ve got to control what you can control and that’s out of my hands,” Bumgarner said. “I know for sure I’m here for two more years. That’s all I know.”
A World Series MVP and the resident ace at Third and King, Bumgarner has a contract that is far smaller than it should be — especially in the context of the team’s payroll. Bumgarner will be the 10th-highest paid Giant this season. It’s a fact that he bluntly said doesn’t bother him.
“I signed my deal knowing that I always want to outperform [it],” Bumgarner added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s $40 million a year. I want to outperform it.”
Bumgarner inked that five-year, $35 million contract (plus the option seasons) in April of 2012. Heading into April of 2018, it leaves him as the team’s third-highest paid starter, behind Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
“I signed that deal with one-plus 2021 of service time,” Bumgarner continued. “I don’t have any regrets of signing it. Honestly, I’d much rather [answer] these questions than [answer] questions about being overpaid.”
Apprised of Bumgarner’s comments, Curt Young, the Giants’ new pitching coach, said that they speak to the mindset of the starter.
“You know what? You look at Bum, he’s a baseball player,” Young said. “Looking at him from across the field, really just getting to know him now the way I am, but he looks like a guy that loves playing baseball — would play for nothing. That’s what he looks like.”
Andrew McCutchen, who along with Evan Longoria was one of the star acquisitions of the offseason, is glad to now be on the same side as Bumgarner. The longtime Giant reached out to McCutchen shortly after the former face of the Pittsburgh Pirates was traded to the team, promptly putting the outfielder into a group text that includes some 20 players.
McCutchen knows first hand about the powers of Bumgarner, the October legend.
“I’ve been eliminated by him,” McCutchen said.
Bumgarner and Co. buzzed past the Pirates in the National League wild card game on the way to the second of three Even-Year titles.
“I’ve gotten to see him, basically, single handedly carry that pitching staff to winning a World Series in 2014,” McCutchen said. “So, he’s somebody that I’m looking forward to being able to play behind. It’s a lot of fun. I’d be lying if said I [didn’t] say I’m happy I don’t have to face him any more.”
Brian Sabean, the executive vice president of baseball operations, hazarded that no one is more excited about the return of a fully healthy Bumgarner than the pitcher himself.
“It’s amazing what he did at the end of last year but we shouldn’t be surprised at that,” Sabean said. “I’m sure he’s probably more anxious [and] more excited than anybody.”
Bumgarner admitted that when he returned last July it was likely sooner than he should have.
“I didn’t feel there was danger in it,” Bumgarner said. “We were kind of playing it by ear as we went.”
The Cactus League beckoning, that’s no longer the case. Bumgarner praised the eclectic winter workout plan drawn up by Carl Kochan, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
“It’s a big assortment of stuff,” Bumgarner said of the regimen. “All sorts of different running and conditioning type stuff, the weight lifting, the pilates, the yoga.
Yes, Bumgarner, who spends his offseasons at his ranch in North Carolina, does yoga.
“[I’ve done it] for the last quite a few years,” Bumgarner said. “It’s not a lot — just scattered here and there.”
He offered a decidedly Bumgarner-ish reply when pressed on a favored pose.
“Well, that’s why nobody sees me do it.”
So, the yoga isn’t new, but when asked if there was anything different with this offseason compared to years past, Bumgarner provided a telling answer.
“I always worked hard but if there’s anything I’d say I did differently, it’s maybe worked a little harder this year,” Bumgarner said. “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt, as strong as I’ve ever felt.”