The ink on Farhan Zaidi’s contract as the new San Francisco Giants new president of baseball operations was barely dry Wednesday when he was asked the question weighing on the mind of every Giants fan.
Is it possible, and perhaps even necessary, that he seeks to trade the franchise’s longtime ace and multiple time World Series hero, Madison Bumgarner?
The question itself was as straight forward as it gets. As for the response? It was not surprisingly vague.
“Everything’s going to be on the table,” Zaidi said.
Everything, except for Zaidi’s cards, which is understandable given that his seat has barely started warming up and considering that he hasn’t completely put his team of decision makers together just yet.
Make no mistake though. Figuring out how or if Bumgarner fits in his short-term and long-term plans will be the toughest decision Zaidi and his group have to make between now and spring training, and the clock is already running.
Before bringing Zaidi on board this week, the Giants did decide to pick up the $12 million option on Bumgarner’s contract for 2019. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the Giants paying all, some or even any of that salary. The option to trade Bumgarner still exists, and trading a pitcher of Bumgarner’s caliber could be the type of deal that jump starts whatever plans Zaidi has for the future, be it a reload or a rebuild.
Why it makes sense to trade Madison Bumgarner
The Giants need financial flexibility in the worst way. With Bumgarner currently on the books for 2019, the Giants have $137 million committed to just eight players on the roster. With the luxury salary cap likely to be set around $206 million, there won’t be much wiggle room to add on once arbitration comes into play. Beyond that, the money that’s tied up is going to players who either underperformed in 2018, or are dealing with injuries that could impact their ability to live up to their respective deals.
To put it bluntly, if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for San Francisco as the team is currently constructed, it’s very dim. Given the Los Angeles Dodgers’ run of success and the improvement of the Colorado Rockies, it might not be a light worth chasing.
A complete rebuild has never been the Giants’ way, but it could be essential to regaining relevance in their division.
Why the Giants might hold on to Madison Bumgarner
Trading a popular player probably wouldn’t be the best way for Zaidi to endear himself to the Giants fanbase. Especially since he’s coming directly from the Dodgers’ front office. We don’t think that would stop him though.
What might stop him is a longer and certainly team friendly commitment from Bumgarner, or perhaps even opportunities to unload other contracts that would make Bumgarner easier to keep around beyond 2019. Both seem to be a long shot, but attempting to predict the market has become impossible over the last 12 months.
Zaidi pointed to the Oakland Athletics trade for Khris Davis as an example of finding just the right deal to get things back on track quickly. Finding that type of deal is one challenge. Feeling with confidence that it will work is the other.
Which teams might be interested in Madison Bumgarner
If Bumgarner becomes available, the Giants will likely be flooded with phone calls. A few potential landing spots stand out.
New York Yankees: Yeah, CC Sabathia is back, but New York will still have rotation openings with J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn likely to leave in free agency and Sonny Gray certain to be traded. General manager Brian Cashman also says the Yankees would prefer to stay under the luxury tax. That would likely take them out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, but there would still be room for Bumgarner’s 2019 deal.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves will be linked to a lot of big name pitchers this offseason as they seek a proven workhorse to supplement their up-and-coming rotation. Bumgarner fits that bill after topping 200 innings every year between 2011 and 2016. Only fluke injuries have prevented him from doing the same the last two seasons, meaning this could be an ideal fit.
Milwaukee Brewers: Same story as the Braves, only the Brewers might have a greater need after clearly not trusting their starting pitchers to carry the postseason load. If Milwaukee had the Bumgarner we’ve often seen in October, it may have been them in the World Series.
Houston Astros: The loaded Astros rotation is suddenly thin following the news of Lance McCullers Jr.’s Tommy John surgery. That, coupled with the possible departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, leaves only Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. It makes sense that Houston could pursue Bumgarner as a one-year stopgap as they seek a World Series return.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Don’t worry, Giants fans. We doubt this would happen. But the Dodgers would almost certainly try, and Zaidi’s knowledge of the Dodgers’ system would almost guarantee San Francisco wouldn’t get bad deal.
Now that we know Clayton Kershaw won’t be available, what happens with Madison Bumgarner could end up shifting the entire starting pitching market. Stay tuned to the Bay Area, baseball fans.
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