A glimpse of how Madison Bumgarner makes sense for the San Diego Padres on so many levels.
The San Diego Padres are a franchise on the rise.
For years upon years, the fan base paid their hard-earned money to watch a ball club full of undervalued players — men who held no star power or sex appeal. Primarily, the San Diego Padres’ roster consisted of boring players since the team moved to Petco Park in 2004.
Things have turned drastically in San Diego as Chris Paddack, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. provide the team with an edge. There is excitement surrounding the San Diego Padres as A.J. Preller and his staff attempt to construct a winning team. The most recent addition of outfielder Tommy Pham provides the Padres with a presence in the clubhouse who will be vocal.
They are well on their way to succeeding in their playoff mission, but there are still some missing pieces to the franchise. Most speculate the glaring need for the team is to acquire a veteran top-of-the-order presence to help guide the young staff. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg would be a tremendous addition for the Padres. Still, each will command top dollar, and there is some uncertainty if the Padres will be able to open up the pocketbooks once again as they did for Myers, Hosmer, and Machado.
Strasburg and Cole will command a significant amount of money this winter via free agency. Each will likely receive a payday that equals $1 million per start. Paying one single player $30-35 million who only participates in roughly 20 percent of your season is very risky. For a franchise who does not hail from a large market (like the Padres), it can certainly be scary to invest that type of commitment.
Thankfully, there are options on the free-agent market for the Padres, who will not command a $30 million per season. The best is arguably Madison Bumgarner. Zack Wheeler was grouped with Bumgarner in this free-agent class as far as value goes, but the right-hand pitcher is no longer available as he agreed to a five-year/$118 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies this week. Wheeler’s annual value of $23.6 million is close to what Bumgarner can expect on the open market. To some, Wheeler is the better pitcher, while others debate that Bumgarner is the better option for a team looking to invest money into a hurler. When looking at the two pitchers, Wheeler may be the more flashy player who has supposedly yet to reach his upside. But he is only nine months younger than Bumgarner- how much upside are you expecting? The Phillies clearly overpaid early for his services.
The market has been set, and with plenty of suitors, Madison Bumgarner holds leverage in negotiations. Given that he is still 30 and will be that age for most of 2020, he will likely seek the same five-year deal that Wheeler received as far as the duration of the contract. The difference is Bumgarner, and his agency might seek an opt-out in their contract. Bumgarner has a lot of confidence and has shown an ability to pitch with diminished velocity. He could remain a top pitcher in the game for the next few seasons and thus prefer to become a free agent after the 2021 season. A team may only need to invest two seasons of money into the pitcher before he potential leaves for more money. This is all speculation, but something to consider while negotiating with the pitcher.
The reality of the situation is the left-hander will get four or five years and somewhere near or above $100 million from a contending team this free agency period. Bumgarner brings with him more than just his pitching stats. The attitude and edge he brings to the mound are infectious. The way he gets riled up while pitching would remind most Padres fans of former great Kevin Brown. On days in which he started, nobody talked to Brown, and Bumgarner brings that fire every fifth day. The young staff would gain so much from seeing this firsthand. Bumgarner is prepared and focused more than anything. Those characteristics are what takes an average Major League pitcher into an All-Star.
MacKenzie Gore is coming. He will surely pitch for the Padres this season as long as he is healthy. Bumgarner and Gore are both left-handed, from the state of North Carolina and have an edge about their game. If Bumgarner took Gore under his wing, it could be extraordinary to witness firsthand. MacKenzie Gore has already professed admiration for Bumgarner publicly. “The way he competes and wants the ball in the biggest games,” Gore told MLB pipeline before he was drafted. The two southpaws have met before, as Gore spent most of the day with Bumgarner a few years ago before the Padres selected him with their first-round pick.
Bumgarner owns a 119-92 career record in 11 years of Major League service time. He has amassed a 3.13 ERA and a 1.111 WHIP in over 1,800 innings, recording a 3.32 FIP. From 2011-16, he pitched over 200 innings for the Giants and was named an All-Star in four of the six seasons. The 30-year-old won the 2014 World Series MVP for his fantastic performance out of the bullpen for San Francisco. The left-hander owns an 8-3 career record in the postseason with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in 102 innings pitched (including three shutouts). He is 4-0 in the World Series with a 0.25 ERA and a 0.528 WHIP in 36 innings for the Giants in the Fall Classic. If the Padres want an ace for the postseason, they could not find anyone better than this veteran hurler. When the game is on the line- he is who you want on the mound.
There is some risk with the former first-round pick, though. He suffered injuries in 2017 and 2018 that limited him to 38 starts in the two years. The 95 mph+ fastball is no longer there consistently for the pitcher, but there is no reason why Bumgarner cannot continue to have success at the Major League level. He was never a huge strikeout pitcher, so the limit with velocity is not a huge concern. The lefty allowed a career-high 30 homers last year, but that has more to do with the fact the pitcher is aggressive.
In 2012, the young pitcher agreed to a team-friendly extension with the Giants. He made $12 million in the last two seasons and $11.5 in 2017, which was a bargain for San Francisco. The pitcher will surely be looking for near top-dollar in a deal this winter. I would imagine comfort level will be huge for the pitcher as he determines where to sign. There will be more than a few “serious” suitors for his services. So he may be picky in his decision.
The reality is Bumgarner will sign a four or five-year deal in the neighborhood of $100 million. For the Padres, who are reportedly flirting with Cole and Strasburg, they could get equal value for less than half the cost. That is something worth seriously considering. The playoff appeal and mentorship of Gore among others is enticing enough to flirt with this veteran pitcher. He may not be a bonified ace as far as stuff goes, but there is no reason to doubt his determination and fire. Who knows. A team that signs him this winter might be surprised by Bumgarner as he transitions into the second half of his career. For San Diego, risks like this are worth making in an attempt for playoff baseball.