LAS VEGAS — When the Giants arrived here on Sunday, Madison Bumgarner was their Opening Day starter. After four days of circulated casino air, room service, $7 cups of coffee, a few rumors and one minor transaction, Madison Bumgarner is still their Opening Day starter.
That still could change, though.
While the Giants are not close to any deals and have not gotten close, multiple sources familiar with their discussions said this week that the front office is still fully ready to trade the franchise’s ace if the right deal comes along. The Giants have come to grips with the reality of making such a move, but also believe at this point that if they are to trade Bumgarner, the best deal likely will come before the July 31 trade deadline.
Discussions about Bumgarner have been overshadowed by contenders focusing elsewhere. The Yankees filled their hole by trading for James Paxton and signing another lefty, J.A. Happ. The Nationals signed Patrick Corbin. Other dominoes will fall, but the Giants have never been all that close to finding their own deal, and they are sensitive to a perceived shift in recent weeks.
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Some recent stories written by national outlets have focused on Bumgarner's declining velocity, poor road numbers and concerning peripherals, but for the Giants, he still is valued highly. "He's still Madison Bumgarner," one Giants person said this week. He also, several team officials pointed out, remains an incredible bargain at $12 million, regardless of what some might believe about Bumgarner's current skill level.
“I would never bet against him,” another source said when asked if Bumgarner’s value has dropped.
During his required media availability on Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he’s confident Bumgarner will bounce back from an up-and-down season, pointing out that he had a tremendous spring in 2018 and looked poised for a big year before a line drive caught his finger.
“I can assure you he is working and he’s going to come in like he did last spring,” Bochy said. “He’s young. He’s strong. He’s smart. He has the ability to adjust. So I’m not going to be surprised if he has done something to tweak his delivery or whatever. Not that I think he needs to. This guy, he’s still really, really good.”
Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts last season but his strikeout rate was down and his walk rate was a career-worst. There are other concerns for scouts who watched him last season, mainly a 4.97 ERA and 1.45 WHIP away from pitcher-friendly AT&T Park.
But for the Giants, Bumgarner remains more than just the numbers. When asked about Bumgarner on Monday, team president and CEO Larry Baer pointed down to a ring on his hand, one Bumgarner helped the Giants win.
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Baer said the organization has dealt with “conflicting feelings” when discussing Bumgarner’s future. There is an emotional pull, certainly, but this is also Farhan Zaidi’s show now, and he has no ties to Bumgarner. Zaidi’s most interesting quote this week may have come when asked about the Diamondbacks taking a step back by trading Paul Goldschmidt. He challenged that assumption that they’re rebuilding, saying that deal was largely about the Diamondbacks "trying to fill multiple spots with a guy that maybe they had doubts about their ability to re-sign.”
The Giants and Bumgarner did not have extension talks last season, when the previous regime was in place. New leadership will make the decision, and multiple rival executives said this week that Zaidi will do what he thinks makes sense for the Giants on the field, no matter the resulting PR hit.
“You hired the experts — Farhan and his team — to do what’s best for the organization,” Baer said. “At the end of the day, it’s the San Francisco Giants on the front of the uniform, and we’ve got to figure out a way to build this into where we want to go.
“If it’s with Bum, great. There are multiple scenarios here. It’s just too early to forecast it because we want to put the best team together. He may or may not be in that equation. Obviously you have your heart, and then you have what’s good for the team. There are a lot of scenarios to understand where it’s going to go. You may very well see him on Opening Day as the starting pitcher.”
For now, Bumgarner is still in that position. But the Giants do not in any way feel that they have approached the meaty part of their offseason, and they will remain open to any possibility with Bumgarner, even if this drags deep into the offseason. They believe there could be a contender — perhaps the Astros, or Braves, or Phillies — still looking for another big arm when the dust settles in January. This likely, though, will drag into the season and all the way to the trade deadline.
After weeks of whispers, the Giants still do not know where they’ll end up with Bumgarner. He’s still a Giant, but there’s a long way to go before he’s set to take the mound at Petco Park on March 28.