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.

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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."

How D-backs' Madison Bumgarner would've done vs. Giants per simulation


How D-backs' Madison Bumgarner would've done vs. Giants per simulation

Giants fans missed out on seeing Mason Saunders Madison Bumgarner pitch against his former team Tuesday, as the MLB season's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic delayed what was scheduled to be Bumgarner's first career start against San Francisco.

They didn't miss much, according to Strat-O-Matic's 2020 season simulation.

Bugmarner pitched a gem against his old club, winning for the first time with his new one while the Giants fell to 0-5 in Strat-o-Matic's sim. The lefty struck out 10 in 7 innings, allowing six hits and walking just two.

"When he reached 10 strikeouts, the fans showed him their appreciation with a loud cheer," Strat-O-Matic's write-up said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said after the game.

Bumgarner pitched for the Giants for parts of 11 seasons, winning three World Series and earning four consecutive All-Star nods from 2013 through 2016. He signed a five-year contract with the Diamondbacks in December.

How have the Giants gotten off to such a poor start sans Bumgarner in the simulation? Strat-O-Matic head of operations and director of research Len Schwartz told Newsday last week that the company is creating its player cards each day for the simulation, utilizing an algorithm including "projections and recent performance."

Losing all five games to start a season literally is, at least in terms of wins and losses, a worst-case scenario, but well within the Giants' expected range of outcomes this season. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections pegged the Giants as about a 94-loss team, while FanGraphs had San Francisco losing 91 games. Either, surely, would have included a few five-game losing streaks.

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Whether Bumgarner dominates the Giants when baseball resumes -- and, when baseball resumes -- remains to be seen due to the spread of COVID-19.

MLB and the players association agreed to a wider deal last week that reportedly included the provisions that the season won't resume until it is deemed medically safe to do so and there are no outstanding bans on travel or mass gatherings.

Shawn Estes advises Giants starters on how to stay ready during hiatus

Shawn Estes advises Giants starters on how to stay ready during hiatus

Every day seems to bring a new round of terrifying updates regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and as baseball players sit home and digest the news, they have no idea when they'll be able to play again. But they're staying ready, as many, including several Giants players, have made clear on their social media pages. 

Evan Longoria recently posted a video of a session in his indoor batting cage and Mauricio Dubon has been working out on his balcony. Dereck Rodriguez's wife posted a clip of a portable pitching mound the right-hander now has. 

The starting pitchers are the ones who have the most work to do right now, and a former Giants starter gave his suggestions on how to stay ready on this week's episode of The Giants Insider Podcast. Shawn Estes, who pitched in the big leagues for 13 years and now is an analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, said starters should try to replicate their normal routine as much as they can given what they're working with. 

"I would try to keep it as a starting pitcher as close to (my) every-five-day routine," Estes said. "You can still go out and get your cardio in, you can get your lifting in, you can throw a bullpen if you have that opportunity ... On your fifth day go out there and kind of do a simulated game, obviously without hitters there. Throw to a catcher and sit down, and I would probably do that for 80 pitches. 

"You know there's still going to be at worst a three-week spring training that you can actually get your arm ready to throw 100 pitches. I wouldn't overdo it until they announce that there's going to be a spring training but I would try to be at 80 pitches if at all possible. I would try to keep it as close to my five-day routine as I could."

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Giants starters were getting into that range just as camp was shut down. If there is a season, the biggest baseball issue for teams will be making sure pitchers are ready to restart and throw at least four to five innings right away without getting hurt. Rosters are sure to be expanded to add coverage, but starting pitchers will still carry a heavier load than others, and they won't have a six-week spring training to ramp back up. Some on other teams have posted clips where they've thrown to catchers recently, although those guidelines might soon be changed. 

Estes talked about what a spring training might look like on the podcast and also touched on how a shortened season might help the Giants, the current vibe in his hometown of Scottsdale, and the possibility of pitchers getting hurt. You can stream the podcast here or download it on iTunes here.