Braves are making Madison Bumgarner a “priority”

Craig Calcaterra

Wanna feel what it’s like to have your brain explode? Then try this one on: Madison Bumgarner is younger than Stephen Strasburg.

I know, right? I re-learn that fact every year or two and still blows my dang mind.

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Anyway, I mention that because Madison Bumgarner, like Strasburg, is a free agent, and yesterday NBC Sports California’s Alex Pavlovic reported that “[p]er league sources, the Braves have made Bumgarner a priority and planned to quickly communicate that to the left-hander.” Pavlovic characterizes the Braves as the “clear favorite” if Bumgarner decides to sign with a new team rather than ink a new deal with the Giants.

It’s a good fit at least on a superficial level. Bumgarner is a southern guy, hailing from North Carolina. For years people have joked that Bumgarner’s well-known habit of being the fun police with respect to opposing players celebrating is in keeping with the reputation the Braves have developed along those lines. I think it’s quite easy to overplay that kind of thing based on some isolated incidents, but there is at least a sense, based on what one can see of the Braves’ culture and Bumgarner’s temperament, that there’d be a good fit there.

More substantively, the Braves are currently a contender and the Giants are not so, if Bumgarner values playing for a winner more than the continuity and and comfort re-signing with the Giants might provide, it could inspire him to take his business across the country. For the Braves’ part, they could use another reliable starting pitcher and could certainly afford it.

And yeah, it’s weird to call Bumgarner merely “reliable” given that he has been one of the best in the game at times in his career. Over the past few seasons his ace-like status has taken a step or two back, however. He had a couple of freak, non-pitching-related injuries that shortened his 2017 and 2018 seasons and, in 2019, he posted his worst ERA+ in seven seasons. While he has given no indication that he’s tiring or breaking down due to all of the miles he’s put on his left arm over the past 11 seasons — his velocity and strikeout rates were up last season and he led the league in games started — the mileage is still there. He may be less of a number one starter than a number two guy now, at least on a contender.

But, obviously, there is a ton of value to what Bumgarner brings to the table. You have to figure that you can plug him into the rotation and expect 30+ starts and 200 innings, give or take, of above-average and occasionally great pitching. That’s a huge boon to any team, both for its own sake and for what a horse like he is can do to help preserve the bullpen arms in the heat of summer. And, quite obviously, the guy knows his way around the postseason.

The Braves are not, recently anyway, known for making the boldest of moves in the free agent market. But that could change pretty quickly based on this report.

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