How Madison Bumgarner's free agency fits into Giants' current rebuild

How Madison Bumgarner's free agency fits into Giants' current rebuild

SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner thought about the question for about 15 seconds, his face scrunching up as he prepared to give an answer. On the final weekend of the Giants season, he had been asked to pinpoint the one factor that would be most important to his decision as he hit free agency for the first time. 

Location? Average annual salary? Years? Coaching staff? An ability to compete in 2020? Finally, Bumgarner spoke. 

"What kind of question is that?" he said, laughing. 

It's the one that might define the offseason in San Francisco, but it somehow has flown under the radar. The Giants have to hire a manager and a general manager and rebuild a lineup that is allergic to scoring runs at Oracle Park, where they'll change the dimensions of the outfield, but at some point they'll have to confront the Bumgarner question, deciding whether they truly want him back and how far they're willing to go. On the other side, Bumgarner, free to talk to all 30 teams for the first time, will do the same. 

The assumption throughout much of the organization, at least at the start of the offseason, is that a fresh start is slightly more likely than a reunion. If that proves to be the case it will be remarkably jarring for a fan base that has grown accustomed to Forever Giants. Bumgarner is not just someone who was part of the championship era and wore orange and black for a long time. He dragged the franchise to a title in 2014 and was a big piece the previous two runs. 

In the five years since he came out of the bullpen at Kauffman Stadium, Bumgarner has watched Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and so many others depart. Buster Posey and the Brandons have slowed down. Bumgarner isn't the same pitcher he was at his peak, but he still has been the one the rest of the clubhouse lines up behind, and he still is the draw for much of the fan base. 

If there was any doubt about that for Farhan Zaidi and the rebuilt front office, the final weekend of the season provided a reminder. First came confusion and outrage from much of the fan base as the Giants decided Bumgarner would not start Game 162. Then came the ovation, one that had many who were there that day thinking they were watching a player say goodbye.

For his part, Bumgarner never framed it that way. He said repeatedly throughout the season that he would like to be back, but he's just as savvy off the mound as he is on it, and in informal conversations throughout the summer, Bumgarner explored his potential market. He knows there are contenders on the East Coast with pitching needs. He knows the young Padres lack a veteran ace. He knows the Braves, the team closest to his North Carolina home will call early. 

That last part is the greatest concern to any Giants officials looking for a reunion. Per league sources, the Braves have made Bumgarner a priority and planned to quickly communicate that to the left-hander. Atlanta sniffed around before the trade deadline and they are the clear favorite if Bumgarner does end up elsewhere. 

The Braves just watched the rival Nationals win the World Series with starting pitching, including Patrick Corbin, who got six years and $140 million last offseason. The left-hander should provide a nice target for Bumgarner and his representatives. Corbin was 29 when he signed, and while he had a good walk year, the rest of his career is not nearly as decorated.

Bumgarner had a 3.90 ERA in 2018, the highest of his career, but he threw 207 innings, led the NL in starts, and struck out nearly five times as many batters as he walked. Bumgarner's splits -- a 5.29 ERA on the road -- will be a concern for suitors, and he comes with a qualifying offer that would impact a team's draft picks, but he can put together a strong case as a free agent. He is durable, having missed time with just two freak injuries, and has shown an ability to change with the times. Bumgarner throws his curveball more than he used to and relies more heavily on a four-seamer that's velocity has remained consistent. It's been years since he was lighting up radar guns, but his four-seamer averaged 91.4 mph in 2019, a half-tick up from the year before. 

In assessing Bumgarner, ESPN's Jeff Passan compared him to Jon Lester, who signed a $155 million deal with the Cubs in 2014 -- the Giants famously "did not get a rose" -- and has lived up to it in his thirties despite diminished stuff. 

Speaking generally about starters past the age of 30, Zaidi said that he looks for that kind of adaptability. He pointed out that the Dodgers made a big offer to Zack Greinke in 2015, confident that his changeup and "pitchability" would allow him to succeed as he aged. Greinke, now 36, signed with the Diamondbacks instead, made three All-Star teams, and nearly won a Game 7 last month for the Astros. 

"I think with somebody like Madison, for us and for other teams, that's going to be the question," Zaidi said. "I do think he's shown the ability to adapt and pitch in different ways and pitch with different pitches. I think he's a guy who will continue to have success."

Zaidi's Dodgers reportedly offered Greinke nearly $160 million, and the ownership group Zaidi now works for in San Francisco had that beat. They'll now collectively have to decide how they value Bumgarner, who means much more to the organization and fan base than whatever statistics he might put up late in his career. Bumgarner has his own process to sort through. 

[RELATED: Krukow believes Giants, Zaidi aren't on five-year plan]

He pitched on a below-market deal for most of his time in San Francisco, but never once complained. Still, sources close to the pitcher say there will be no hometown discount, not after the Giants paid most of their core but never locked up their ace. 

The Giants didn't come particularly close to a long-term deal with Bumgarner after what he did in 2014, and he'll now get to figure out what's most important to him as he prepares for the rest of his career. Where does Bumgarner want to play? Regardless of what else happens, it's the most intriguing question of this Giants offseason.

Five weird Giants stats that stand out after 20 games of odd MLB season

Five weird Giants stats that stand out after 20 games of odd MLB season

The Giants' 2020 MLB season officially is one-third of the way done. That feels extremely weird to write after a 20-game sample size, yet here we are. Blink and the 60-game season will be over.

After their 5-1 loss Wednesday night against the Houston Astros, the Giants are 8-12 on the year. They just finished a grueling road trip where they went 3-7, and finally have a day off after 16 games in 16 days. With their latest defeat, the Giants now are tied for the second-most losses in baseball. 

Despite that fact, they're far from out of the playoff picture as the postseason has been expanded to eight teams for each league. Here are five stats -- good and bad -- that have defined the first third of the Giants' season. 


I mean, who didn't expect Donovan Solano to be hitting .458 right now? It was pretty obvious this would happen. Right? .... right? 

OK, back to reality. Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw this coming. Solano, 32, did hit .330 last season and proved he's a major league hitter. Now, he's one of the best stories in baseball. 

Solano has the third-highest batting average through 16 games in San Francisco Giants history. Only Barry Bonds (.525) in 2004 and Willie Mays (.470) in 1964 have been better. That's a pretty, pretty good group to be a part of. 

Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon (.472) is the only player with a higher batting average than Solano right now. They're joined by New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu as the three players hitting over .400 this season. The only downside is Solano has been shelved recently with an abdominal injury.


For as great as Solano has been at the plate, the Giants' catchers have not. Chadwick Tromp (.226) and Tyler Heineman (.212) are batting a combined .219 right now. 

This doesn't sit well with the crowd begging for the Giants to call up top prospect Joey Bart

Tromp has hit two home runs and shown some power, but he also has 11 strikeouts to only one walk. Heineman has displayed a better eye at the plate, however, he virtually has no power at the plate. The two have been solid when it comes to framing pitches, they haven't been as great when it comes to actually hitting pitches.

After a three-game series with the A's, the Giants then have four games against the Los Angeles Angels and three vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps then it finally will be Bart time.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]


That's the number of home runs the Giants have hit as a team this season, with their power being an improvement from last year. A total of 11 Giants have gone deep this season. They're currently tied with the Houston Astros with the 17th-most long balls in baseball. 

But that's not the 21 we're focusing on here. 

The Giants also have made 21 errors, the most in the game by far. The next highest is the Kansas City Royals with 17. San Francisco is committing more than one error per game, which can't happen with a team that isn't full of sluggers at the plate. 

For as great as Solano has been at the plate, he has been atrocious defensively. He leads the team with four errors and his fielding percentage is just .902 right now. These aren't the Yankees, these aren't even the San Diego Padres. If the Giants want to compete, they have to clean it up defensively.


Speaking of cleaning it up, the Giants also can't afford how many free bases their pitchers have allowed. They lead the NL with 79 walks, which ranks fourth in the majors. 

Sometimes walks can be deceiving. Trevor Cahill walked four batters in 1 2/3 innings in San Francisco's loss to Houston on Wednesday. Those walks never really came back to hurt him, but there's a bigger picture here. Giants pitchers struck out seven batters and walked six in the loss. Astros pitchers struck out nine and walked one. That's a winning formula, the Giants' is not. 

Giants pitchers also have hit 12 batters, tied for the fourth-most in the big leagues. Their 5.10 ERA is the seventh-worst in baseball, and they rank 22nd in strikeouts with 142. It all starts with the walks, though. 

Once again, this is a team that can't afford sloppiness and free bases.

[RELATED: Slater, Solano's injuries expose Giants' offense in loss]


When the Giants signed Billy Hamilton in the offseason, he gave them a speed factor they haven't had in years. Hamilton is one of the fastest players the game has ever seen. He also never played an inning as a Giant. 

San Francisco traded him to the New York Mets for pitching prospect Jordan Humphreys on Aug. 2. Still, the Giants are tied for eighth in stolen bases this season, with eight. 

Known speedster Austin Slater leads the Giants with five stolen bases to go with his three home runs. Slater also has legged out a triple, and Mike Yastrzemski has two three-baggers. 

The Giants finished last season with the third-lowest stolen base totals in baseball. They're a team that needs to take advantage of every extra base they can get, and whether it be a stolen base or hustling for a double or triple, they're doing exactly that this season.

Dereck Rodriguez impressed by Joey Bart, Giants prospects at alternate site

Dereck Rodriguez impressed by Joey Bart, Giants prospects at alternate site

There wasn't a player at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento who had a better feel for high-upside talent than Dereck Rodriguez. He's the son of a Hall-of-Fame catcher and grew up in big league clubhouses. 

Rodriguez, then, was the perfect person to ask about the top prospects who are spending their summer getting reps against more experienced pitchers like him and Trevor Cahill, both of whom were called up Wednesday. He gave a glowing scouting report, too. 

"(Joey) Bart is unbelievable. Bart, he's a big league player if I could say it. He's awesome to throw to," Rodriguez said. "He's awesome calling games, and he looks like a veteran at the plate

"Heliot Ramos, that dude has some pop like no other, and Luciano, for how young he is, he is really disciplined at the plate. He takes some pitches that are tough. Him and Ramos were tough at-bats down there. I don't think I got Ramos out once, and Luciano, man, Luciano was good. He was battling. He would walk here and there. I would have to throw him pitches and he would sit on them. Usually younger guys -- 2-0, 3-0 counts are usually fastball counts -- but to him you have to treat him pretty much like a veteran. He makes good adjustments, it's pretty cool. He's a big boy, man, he can hit."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bart, Ramos and Luciano are the organization's top three prospects, and are among the 30 or so players working out in Sacramento every day.

When the minor league season was canceled, the Giants brought most of their top prospects to Northern California, hopeful that they could accelerate their development with daily reps against guys like Rodriguez, a breakout star in 2018 who has seen an uptick in velocity and is back in the big league mix after a down 2019. 

Luciano hasn't even played Low-A ball yet, so this summer is all about learning. But Bart should debut at some point this year, and Rodriguez said he didn't think Ramos would be overmatched. Like Bart, Ramos reached Double-A last season, and as an outfielder he could have an easier adjustment to the big league level. 

[RELATED: New Giants catchers thrive in this stat]

"He's a great runner, he reads the ball well off the bat, he has a really good arm, and he sees spin really well. He's a good, disciplined hitter up there," Rodriguez said. "In my opinion I think he could be up here at any moment. And Bart, everybody loves Bart. I think a lot of the guys up here (in the big leagues), a lot of the pitchers that threw to Joey in camp were really impressed and are excited honestly. 

"We're really excited to try to get him up here at some point, either by the end of the year or next year.  It's going to be a lot of fun seeing him up here and throwing to him."