The San Francisco Giants may have already made their biggest move this offseason hiring Farhan Zaidi away from the Dodgers, but he will be joining a team with a flurry of problems. One of the biggest problems surrounds the Giants’ ace, Madison Bumgarner who is due to make $12 million dollars this upcoming season. He then will hit the free-agent market if the Giants decide to let him go.
Zaidi has a huge decision to make with Bumgarner. Should he trade him this winter to give a team a full year of control in an attempt to maximize the return? Will he extend the post-season legend that played a large part in the Giants most recent dynasty?
Whatever Zaidi decides to do, Giants fans will assuredly not be happy. I’m going to put on my GM hat and break down what I would do if I were in his place.
When is the right time to trade MadBum?
As GM, I would keep MadBum and hope he pitches his way back to what he was or at least close to what he was in 2016. That year he was an All-Star with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts, finishing 18th in MVP voting after he single-handedly ended the Mets season in the Wild-Card game with his dominating complete game shutout. As of now, the general consensus around the league is that Bumgarner may not hail a return large enough to make sense for the Giants to part ways with their ace.
There are many alarming statistics pointing to Bumgarner being more of a middle of the rotation pitcher versus the ace he once was, none more alarming than his decrease in fastball velocity. While it is expected for fastball velocity to decrease as pitchers get older, a steep drop-off like the one seen in Bumgarner raises some red flags. According to FanGraphs, in 2015 Bumgarner had the highest average velocity of his career at 93 mph. In the following three years it has only decreased, and in 2018 it was 91.4 mph.
While Bumgarner did post a respectable 3.26 ERA this year, his home and away splits were very alarming, posting a 4.97 ERA on the road. Many teams’ executives will see this and know that without the friendly confines of AT&T Park, Bumgarner may not be a true ace anymore.
However, on the flip side of those pretty bad splits are some encouraging things from the Giants’ point of view. Bumgarner’s 1.63 ERA at home is elite and could win the Giants a lot of ballgames at home. That could help them compete and put an exciting product on the field that will sell tickets. Plus, if Bumgarner continues to pitch with a sub-2 ERA at home and can lower his road ERA to a sub-4, that should entice some teams at the trade deadline to give up top prospects for a proven, clutch October performer.
Whose a Good Fit for a Trade?
The Giants need to target teams that have a good farm system and are desperate to win now. A team like the New York Yankees who also traded for Andrew McCutchen at the same time last season fit the profile. The Yankees are in a division with the defending World Series Champions who are returning a majority of their key players. They also have to worry about a sneaky 90-win Tampa Bay Rays team who make for a tough division to get wins in.
Gaining an established ace like MadBum at the end of July would be a huge boost for a team like the Yankees, who are desperate for their 28th ring. The Yankees have the 16th best farm system according to Bleacher Report but have since been thinned by their dealing of Justice Sheffield to the Mariners in exchange for James Paxton. The Giants are short on pitching depth in their system, but I am a big believer in getting established pitchers via trade and free agency.
This strategy of stockpiling young position players through the draft and trades, instead of pitchers, is from a book called The Cubs Way, where Theo Epstein talked about how he built the Cubs’ World Series team. He drafted guys like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and Kyle Schwarber while also trading for Anthony Rizzo. Epstein felt that stockpiling position players was the best strategy because drafting and trading for unestablished pitchers is much more of a gamble. This is the case due not only to the normal risk of a young player being a bust, but because pitchers are much more likely to sustain season or career-ending injuries while they put mileage on their arms through their time in the minor leagues. It makes more sense to draft position players who are a little easier to project.
Because of this, the Giants should target some of the Yankees’ more valued position players such as Estevan Florial, an outfielder who had a tough 2017 campaign but has a very high ceiling similar to Heliot Ramos, the Giants’ 2017 1st round pick. They could then ask for a player like Ryder Green, ranked 16th in the Yankees system by MLB.com, who is an 18-year-old outfielder with 30-home-runs-a-year potential. Then add in a hard-throwing reliever from the bottom of their system and you have yourself a respectable haul for a two-month rental that will be too expensive to extend.
These two prospects would immediately be put into the Giants’ Top 5 Prospects and would strengthen a very weak farm system. I agree with Farhan Zaidi that the number one goal for this team this year is stockpiling talent throughout the organization, so pulling off a trade of this caliber after having MadBum pitch for the Giants for a majority of the year would be considered a huge win.