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.

Giants' Heliot Ramos could make MLB debut in 2020, Gabe Kapler says

Giants' Heliot Ramos could make MLB debut in 2020, Gabe Kapler says

The start to MLB's ramp-up to the season certainly hasn't gone smooth. Four Giants already have tested positive for the coronavirus, and workouts at Oracle Park were suspended Tuesday pending the results of tests conducted this past weekend. 

If there actually is a season this year, Giants fans could get a glimpse of their exciting future. Manager Gabe Kapler already has raved about 18-year-old Marco Luciano, catcher Joey Bart is set to learn another position to help his major-league chances in the near future and a 20-year-old outfielder could make his MLB debut this season. It certainly didn't take long for Heliot Ramos to impress Kapler.

"I'm never one to rule anything out, and Ramos has shown especially well in these first couple of days," Kapler said Monday on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks" show. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ramos, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, might have been their most impressive prospect last year. He spent the entire season as a 19-year-old and made it all the way to Double-A Richmond. Through 77 games in Class A San Jose, Ramos hit .306 with 13 homers and 18 doubles before playing his final 25 games in Richmond. 

He only played two games with the big league club in spring training, but he did crush a two-run homer against the Colorado Rockies. On Monday, he opened eyes yet again with his approach at the plate. 

"He had another couple of good at-bats (Monday), just missed a hanging slider ... the whole camp kind of opened their mouths like, 'He really just missed putting that ball in the seats,' " Kapler said. "His engine is really incredible. Excellent bat speed, good throwing arm, smart kid, really great to have around." 

[RELATED: Giants could have some tough decisions with outfielders]

Ramos likely would have started the season in Triple-A Sacramento this year, or even played a few more games in Richmond. Now as he's part of the Giants' 60-man roster, he'll be in Sacramento at the Giants' sister site when the MLB season begins.

But at only 20 years old, Ramos could be in San Francisco playing for the Giants as soon as this season. 

"Wouldn't rule anything out," Kapler said. "Likelihood is there's probably a little more development there."

Why Gabe Kapler isn't worried about Giants suspending camp Tuesday

Why Gabe Kapler isn't worried about Giants suspending camp Tuesday

The Giants have spent weeks preparing for every possibility that might pop up during a spring training held at Oracle Park amid a continued coronavirus outbreak.

But there's one thing they could not have planned for, a hurdle nobody quite saw coming across the league. 

A missing FedEx truck. 

On Tuesday the Giants announced that their afternoon workout had been canceled because they are awaiting test results from Saturday. Manager Gabe Kapler said the Giants, like at least a half-dozen other teams, had issues relating to their courier who was supposed to take a round of COVID-19 tests to MLB's facility in Utah. Because the Giants did not have Saturday's results back, they were unable to take the field Tuesday.

A few players, mostly pitchers, were able to take part in a light workout in the morning before the staff made the decision to call off the day's activities. Kapler said he's confident Saturday's test results will come back Tuesday at some point, allowing the Giants to take the field as planned Wednesday. 

While some executives around the league have blasted MLB's handling of all this, Kapler was diplomatic, saying he has a "level of empathy for everybody" working hard to keep camps running across the league.

"Nobody expected this to be easy," Kapler said, "And everybody is doing the best that they can."

It will have to be better, though. Players already have a high level of distrust with the league and trepidation about playing this season, as Buster Posey made clear Saturday. Continued issues could lead to a wave of players opting out before the season even starts, and people across the game have said publicly the last couple of days that they need to see MLB clean up the process. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The issues started over the weekend when the A's were unable to hold a workout because their test results had been delayed by a lack of pickups over the holiday weekend. On Monday, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros had to cancel workouts because of delays for Friday's testing. The Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels also have had to push back workouts. 

Players are supposed to be tested every other day, and Kapler was hopeful that the process would get back on track quickly. The Giants had another round of testing Monday and hope to get that back Wednesday. Kapler was confident the protocols would be better figured out in the coming days. 

"I feel as confident today as I did yesterday," he said. "I understand that there's going to be hiccups along the way. I think our club does, as well. Our players and staff are included in that. I still have confidence for sure."

[RELATED: Three observations about Giants' schedule]

The Giants were supposed to hold their first intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday. They had moved it up a few days because camp had been going well over the weekend, and there is some urgency to all of this. The Giants will open at Dodger Stadium on July 23, and while they have not had any known big leaguers test positive for COVID-19 -- four members of the organization have, overall -- there is very little time to get the healthy players ready. 

Kapler, though, focused on the positive. He said this would not be a significant setback, noting that it could be a needed break for players, coaches and support staff, most of whom rushed to San Francisco in the last two weeks and jumped right into a modified camp with extreme safety protocols. Kapler said the Giants would use this as a "mental recovery day."

"There's some benefit to that," he said.