Giants

Madison Bumgarner is forcing contenders to consider trade with Giants

Madison Bumgarner is forcing contenders to consider trade with Giants

Madison Bumgarner did not get off to the strongest start to 2019. But don't look now, because the Giants ace just might be finding the form that made him one of the top pitchers in the game.

Bumgarner is coming off his best performance of the still-young season, giving up only one run in six innings to the NL West rival Dodgers on Wednesday. That prompted catcher Buster Posey to say the left-hander displayed "the best stuff he's had all year."

As it turns out, Posey wasn't blowing smoke. Bumgarner was ... or was throwing it, rather.

As ESPN's Buster Olney points out, Bumgarner's average fastball velocity in the Giants' win was 91.9 mph -- essentially the same as it was in 2015, when the lefty arguably had his best season as a pro. He also generated 18 missed swings, his most in any start since September 2016 (also against the Dodgers). All 18 missed swings came on fastballs.

In fact, through his first seven starts of the season, Bumgarner's 2019 stats are eerily similar to his 2015 numbers. So far this season, he's pitched an identical 43 2/3 innings, issued one fewer walk, struck out one additional batter and allowed one additional home run, and his 2019 xFIP of 3.63 is just slightly worse than it was in 2015 (3.59). Really, only his ERA (3.92) is considerably different from 2015 (3.30).

With San Francisco looking far from being a contending squad, a potential Bumgarner trade likely offers the Giants their best chance at bringing back a transformative return for their ace. The fact that Bumgarner -- the most dominant postseason pitcher in league history -- is finding his form only can improve what that potential return would be.

[RELATED: Bumgarner felt 'night and day difference' vs. Dodgers]

At 29, Bumgarner hasn't suffered a significant decline in velocity. As for what might attract him to potential trade partners, Olney suggests looking no further than Cole Hamels, who had tremendous success with the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs after they acquired him at the deadline. Prior to the trade, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts for the lowly Texas Rangers. In 12 starts for the Cubs, Hamels had a 2.36 ERA.

That was enough to compel the Cubs to pick up Hamels' option for this season, and he's produced a 3.19 ERA thus far. It's evident the change in scenery -- particularly the change in competitiveness -- had a profound effect on Hamels' turnaround.

As such, it's easy to understand why a potential contender might be interested in Bumgarner, especially considering the playoff success he's had. The Giants don't appear headed back to the postseason, so perhaps Bumgarner is most useful to them elsewhere.

How Giants manager Gabe Kapler plans to handle veteran core of lineup

How Giants manager Gabe Kapler plans to handle veteran core of lineup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gabe Kapler spent the last month talking to Giants employees about why he would be the right fit for the job, and on Wednesday he spent nearly an hour on a podium discussing his past and future. But now Kapler plans to listen.

The new Giants manager is three months from the start of spring training and soon after that he'll have to start putting together lineups. On the Giants Insider Podcast, Kapler said he plans to talk to core players before revealing any preferences. 

"An executive in Los Angeles once said to me: 'Know where they've been, know where they are, know where they're going," Kapler said. "In order to know those three things, I need to be able to ask those questions and hear what's going on in their brains."

The arrival of Kapler -- and general manager Scott Harris -- should lead to big changes even if the Giants aren't able to trade any veterans. Bruce Bochy had too much respect for Buster Posey's past accomplishments to move him out of the heart of the order, but Kapler enters without that history.

Brandon Crawford is coming off a down year and could lose time to Mauricio Dubon or a newcomer. Brandon Belt didn't hit for much power last year, but Bochy hit him leadoff at times because of his ability to have good plate appearances, and Kapler complimented Belt during his press conference Wednesday. 

"I've thought a lot about Brandon Belt (and) how impressive it is to watch him take an at-bat, independent of the outcome of the at-bat," Kapler said. "He tends to look over pitches and make really good swing-or-don't-swing decisions."

It'll now be up to Kapler to figure out the best configuration. He said he already has started digging into his new options, and he's excited about meeting the longtime Giants. 

"In preparing for an interview like this, you start to learn the players: The areas where they've taken off since you might have seen them last, the areas where they might have regressed a little bit," he said. "Before any real lineup decisions are made or any strategic decisions are made, tactical decisions, you have conversations with the players. I think that's a really important part of the process that sometimes gets blown past.

"I don't think it makes any sense for me to come in here and say Brandon Belt is going to lead off for us and Evan Longoria will hit in this spot and Buster Posey is going to play 'X' amount of games. All of those things we have an idea and a feel for, but much more importantly, before I make any decision like that or suggest any decision like that, I'll have a conversation with Buster, have a conversation with Evan, find out where they've been."

The perception in some circles is that Kapler was brought in partly because he can have those conversations before taking lineup suggestions from Zaidi, a close friend. But Kapler said he had autonomy in Philadelphia and doesn't expect a change, although he's happy to have input from the front office.

[RELATED: Zaidi lands his guy in Kapler, who must prove he fits Giants]

"I see it as a plus and a positive that Farhan will be invested in what happens on the field," he said. "That's the way it should be. But it's also important to note that I have a fairly strong personality. I've always shared my opinions. I always will share my opinions. We'll just come to the best decisions that help the San Francisco Giants win baseball games."

For more of Kapler's thoughts on strategy, bullpen usage, developing top prospects, his reunion with Zaidi, and those ice cream urban legends, you can stream the Giants Insider Podcast here or download it on iTunes here.

Click here to watch the full Kapler interview

Yankees GM reveals interest in Madison Bumgarner in MLB free agency

Yankees GM reveals interest in Madison Bumgarner in MLB free agency

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but Madison Bumgarner will be a hot commodity in MLB free agency.

The Atlanta Braves reportedly are the favorites to land the three-time World Series champion, but now another title contender is hoping in adding Bumgarner's services in 2020, after his 11-year run with the Giants.

“I will definitely talk to Bumgarner’s agency,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reportedly told The San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea at the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I haven’t. But I will.”

The Yankees' interest is far from a surprise. Not only does the franchise have one of baseball’s most expansive payrolls, but it could use a pitcher who sports a series of dominant playoff performances, considering the Yankees haven’t participated in the Fall Classic since 2009, despite seven postseason appearances in that span.

[RELATED: How Kapler explained 'problem solving' in 2015 blog post]

It remains to be seen how aggressive the Giants will be in trying to re-sign Bumgarner, but it’s clear they won’t be the only ones after the left-hander this winter.