Madison Bumgarner, Giants face uncertainty at start of final contract year


Madison Bumgarner, Giants face uncertainty at start of final contract year

SAN FRANCISCO -- After an offseason so quiet that MLB players started openly saying words like "collusion" and "strike," team owners have opened their checkbooks in a different type of way.

Free agency was controversial, but there has been an unprecedented wave of contract extensions for star players, with more than a billion dollars handed out over the past week alone. There were new deals for superstar position players -- Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Alex Bregman -- but aces have cleaned up, too. 

Over a span of six days, five top-of-the-rotation arms -- Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Blake Snell, and Kyle Hendricks -- guaranteed themselves a combined $461.5 million dollars. But at Oracle Park, the Giants’ biggest moves this past week have been waiver claims and minor trades. 

The free agent class of 2019 has lost a lot of star power, but Madison Bumgarner remains, and as the Giants left-handed prepares to start on Opening Day for the fifth time, there's no indication that a deal will get done before he’s scheduled to hit the market this fall. 

Bumgarner knows what he wants, though. Asked Tuesday if he’d still like to stay with the Giants long term, the 29-year-old nodded. 

"For sure," Bumgarner told NBC Sports Bay Area. "I've spent my entire career here and went through some really good times and some bad ones, too. That's just part of playing the game. I feel like if you play it long enough, that's going to happen, so it's kind of good and bad at the same time, but we'll see."

It was not lost on Bumgarner that so many of his fellow starters cashed in over the past week, but he declined to comment about any talks that might have taken place on his end.

"I have too much respect for this organization to talk about contractual stuff publicly," he said. 

Farhan Zaidi, in his first season as the Giants’ president of baseball operations, gave only a bit more info while echoing Bumgarner, a three-time World Series champion and four-time All-Star in his nine-plus San Francisco seasons.

"The lines of communication are always going to be open with his representation," Zaidi said. "But I wouldn't want to comment publicly beyond that."

Zaidi has said publicly that he must be open to anything, given the Giants’ situation, and the team did listen to trade offers on Bumgarner during the offseason. The expectation is that those talks will heat back up before the July 31 trade deadline, a major reason why a contract extension was unlikely all along.

One source familiar with discussions said any sort of new contract before free agency starts again would be a shock because Zaidi has to keep his options open. 

Bumgarner apparently is keeping his options open, too. Some stars have in the past presented Opening Day as a deadline for teams to negotiate contracts, but per a source, Bumgarner did not do that with the Giants this spring.

This ultimately will play out between the lines. If the Giants are surprise contenders, a Bumgarner trade in July would not make sense. And if the lefty returns to form, entering the free market might be his most desirable outcome no matter where he wants to play. Sale and Verlander, who were scheduled to be free agents, are off the board, and contenders potentially looking for an ace have lost some options during extension season.

[RELATED: Five biggest questions facing Giants in 2019]

Bumgarner might end up as one of the top prizes on the market in seven months, but he's not letting that uncertainty impact the start of his 2019 season, even if thoughts about the future occasionally slip into his mind. 

"I mean, yeah, for sure, there's no way you couldn't (think about it)," he said. "But like I always say, I'm just here to win no matter what the situation is and do what I can to help us win, wherever that's at."

MLB rumors: Giants to hire Reds' Donnie Ecker as new hitting coach

MLB rumors: Giants to hire Reds' Donnie Ecker as new hitting coach

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are hoping to see a youth movement in their lineup over the next couple of seasons. They're apparently going with the same approach on their coaching staff. 

Cincinnati Reds assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker will be named the Giants' hitting coach, according to Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. The Giants did not immediately confirm the hire. They are expected to announce their staff next week at the Winter Meetings. Ecker, 33, is just five years removed from being the baseball coach at Los Altos High, his alma mater. 

The Giants have spent the last month putting Gabe Kapler's staff in place, and they have not looked in traditional corners. They have worked to surround Kapler with coaches who take a more modern approach and can help develop the next Giants contender, and Ecker certainly qualifies as an interesting hire. 

Ecker spent just one season as assistant hitting coach in Cincinnati. In 2018 he was the Triple-A hitting coach for the Angels, and before that, he coached in the minors for the Cardinals for three seasons. Ecker's coaching career began in 2013 when he took a job at Los Altos High, where he was a two-sport star in baseball and football. Ecker was a 22nd-round pick of the Rangers in 2007 but got just 97 minor league at-bats. 

Ecker certainly is a bit of an out-of-the-box hire, but that might be just what the Giants need after years of struggling to put together a lineup that can hit at Oracle Park. Ecker's bio with the Reds stated that "his teaching methods incorporate human movement research and technology-based applications to the body and swing." He is described as someone who is an "integrated movement specialist."

[RELATED: Where Giants' core players stand as Winter Meetings near]

Once confirmed, Ecker will join third base coach Ron Wotus as members of Kapler's staff. The Giants also have hired Brian Bannister as Director of Pitching but it's unclear if that role will have him in the dugout. 

MLB rumors: Giants targeted Georgia's Sean Kenny as next pitching coach

MLB rumors: Giants targeted Georgia's Sean Kenny as next pitching coach

The Giants' coaching staff under manager Gabe Kapler is starting to take shape. 

The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly reported Sunday that San Francisco was in negotiations with Indians defensive coordinator Kai Correa, and sources told NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic on Wednesday that Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent the previous five seasons with the Red Sox, will join the Giants as their director of pitching

Speaking of pitching, the Giants appear to be on the hunt for a new pitching coach. And their search seems far and wide. 

D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers reported Wednesday that the Giants targeted the University of Georgia's pitching coach Sean Kenny for the same role in the big leagues. But, UGA made sure Kenny stayed in Athens. 

Kendall says the Giants have looked at several candidates from college and the pros, and Kenny looks like a prime coach on the rise. The former 17th-round pick of the Mets became Georgia's pitching coach before the 2018 season and instantly made a huge impact. 

Georgia's pitching staff lowered its team ERA 1.05 points to 3.97 in Kenny's first year on the job, and set a school record with a .236 opponent's batting average. That number dropped to a lowly .200 last season, as UGA's ERA fell to 3.24 while setting a school record with 601 strikeouts. 

[RELATED: Report: Twins, White Sox 'heaviest suitors' for MadBum]

The Giants haven't formally announced that Curt Young will not return for a third season as their pitching coach, but it was expected that Kapler would bring in several new coaches. The only known coach to come back next season is Ron Wotus, who will be in his 33rd year with the Giants organization.

Bench coach Hensley Meulens has joined the Mets, and hitting coach Alonzo Powell accepted a job in Japan in the same role.