Giants

MLB free agency: Analysts predict Madison Bumgarner signs with Braves

MLB free agency: Analysts predict Madison Bumgarner signs with Braves

The Giants' offseason is full of question marks. Who will be their manager? Who's their next general manager? What's going on with the bullpens? Will they add a big-name free agent? 

The biggest question, however, is what will happen to their own star free agent? Madison Bumgarner, at 30 years old, is a free agent for the first time and could be saying goodbye to the only team he has known for more than a decade. 

At some point soon, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the front office will have to decide how much of a priority keeping Bumgarner is. At the same time, MadBum has to decide what his priorities in free agency are. 

The current safe assumption is that Giants fans gave Bumgarner a goodbye on Game 162 this past season when pinch-hit against Clayton Kershaw. Sources have told NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic the Atlanta Braves have made Bumgarner a priority and planned to quickly communicate that to the former World Series hero. 

Those around the league seem to have the sense that Bumgarner could be headed to the Braves, too. An ESPN panel of Buster Olney, Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield all predicted the four-time All-Star will be in Atlanta on Opening Day. MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince also placed MadBum on the Braves in a Thursday predictions piece. 

Imagining Bumgarner wearing a uniform besides the Giants' orange and black seems nearly impossible to do. Admit it, though, you can see him in a Braves jersey. The signing would make plenty of sense, too. 

The Braves are on the brink of World Series contention and need a veteran like Bumgarner to lead their young staff. With pitchers like Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried already in the rotation, Bumgarner could be the perfect addition. He likely also won't break the bank, too.

Bumgarner has been considered perhaps the most fascinating free agent on the market this offseason, for many reasons. 

[RELATED: How MadBum's free agency fits into the Giants' rebuild]

Are teams paying for the greatest playoffs pitcher of all time, or are they getting an aging pitcher with declining velocity and a ton of miles on his arm? Bumgarner also led the league this season with 34 games started. He pitched 207 2/3 innings in his first full season since 2016 and struck out 203 batters. But he was terrible on the road, posting a 5.29 ERA, and that could be a concern for teams vying to sign him.

Put Bumgarner in another postseason race, however, and Atlanta could claim a World Series ring for the first time since 1995.

Bumgarner is quite the free agent test case, but if he leaves the Giants, it's easy to see the North Carolina native call Atlanta his new home.

What's behind Giants' four catcher's interference calls in 18 games?

What's behind Giants' four catcher's interference calls in 18 games?

The Giants knew they would miss Buster Posey's approach at the plate, his arm behind it, his framing and his leadership on and off the field. 

When Posey opted out of the 2020 season after a week of Summer Camp, he left huge spikes to fill, and the front office and new coaching staff knew it couldn't be done. 

But they never really could have anticipated having such issues with one aspect of the position that normally isn't a huge problem at the big league level. When Chadwick Tromp clipped Josh Reddick's bat with his outstretched glove in the third inning of a 6-4 loss, it was the fourth catcher's interference call on the Giants in 18 games. 

To put that into perspective, Posey has three ... in his entire career.

Posey has been called for catcher's interference just one time over the past six seasons, including none last year, when the Giants had just one. The first three this year were called on Tyler Heineman, but the one on Tromp was especially costly. It wiped the second out -- Reddick grounded out softly -- off the board for Logan Webb with the Giants trailing just 1-0. The Astros would end up scoring four runs in the inning.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

After Heineman's second one over the course of the first week, Kapler said the staff had asked the rookie to get closer to the plate for guys with big 12-6 breaking balls. But Kevin Gausman -- who had the third one called during his start in Denver -- doesn't fit that description, and neither does Webb. The issue on Monday was something else, Kapler said. 

"It's a little different with the runner in motion there. One of the adjustments (Tromp) has made has been to get his momentum going through the baseball and I think, witnessing the whole field, he probably got a little bit anxious and went out to get that ball a little bit too soon," Kapler said. "Reddcik has a tendency to lay the bat into the zone pretty early and extend so those two things lined up and he just clipped the glove."

Tromp explained it similarly. 

"My momentum took me to the ball and I think that combined with Reddick, I think he has like a long swing, and I think those two played a factor," he said. "Bad timing. I felt horrible, but that's just kind of what happened. My momentum took me into the throw, and it's just unfortunate."

If this feels like a bizarre mistake for a team to keep making, it's because it is. The Diamondbacks and Cubs led the majors last year with six catcher's interference calls in 162 games. The Giants have four in 18 games, while the other 29 teams entered play Monday with five combined. 

Asked a second question about the trend, Kapler shifted the focus. 

"I just really want to keep this as a team thing. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we stick together as a team. We make a comeback tonight against a rough reliever as a team," he said. "As a team, I think the fewer mistakes we make, the quicker we can clean up those mistakes, the more likely it is those comebacks turn into wins and not just valiant efforts."

[RELATED: Krukow believes Astros getting "free pass" this season]

As a team, the Giants have 21 errors, four more than any other team in the big leagues. They had three on Monday and should have had a fourth. Donovan Solano's whiff of the leadoff grounder in that third inning was ruled a single and got the whole thing started. 

It's surprising that the Giants , who had two encouraging camps, have kicked the ball around so often. It's also costing them wins in a season where every game is the equivalent of 2.7. The lineup scored three runs in the ninth, but too much damage had been done with the early sloppiness. 

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-4 loss to Astros

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-4 loss to Astros

BOX SCORE

The Giants have gone all-in on advanced stats, and for good reason. But sometimes you can describe a performance in the most old-school way possible and say everything you need to do. 

Through eight innings Monday night in Houston, the Giants had three errors and just two hits. There's all you need to know. 

A rally in the ninth put the tying run on first, but the hole was too deep and the Giants lost 6-4 to the Astros. This was yet another ugly performance for a team that leads the majors with 21 errors, and the lineup flirted with a no-hitter for a couple hours.

Here are three things to know from the night the Giants fell to 2-6 on the road trip ... 

Deserved Far Better

The frustration showed on Logan Webb's face throughout the third inning, and you can't blame him. Webb needed 36 pitches to get out of the frame and gave up four runs, through little fault of his own. The young right-hander got six outs, but one grounder was booted, another was wiped away by a catcher's interference (the fourth of the year by the Giants, incredibly) and a third was thrown away. 

Only two of the five runs Webb gave up were earned, meaning he has allowed just five earned in four starts this year. He's off to a good start. It would be much better if he had a functional defense behind him.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

No Backup Plan

Donovan Solano made a couple of errors at third base, and he also whiffed on Jose Altuve's grounder that was ruled a single but had a hit probability of just four percent. Solano was starting because manager Gabe Kapler wanted to give Evan Longoria a day off, but as good as he has been at the plate this year, he is miscast at the hot corner. 

The problem for the Giants is that Wilmer Flores doesn't look like he can really play there, either, and Pablo Sandoval doesn't seem like an option. Longoria is close to an everyday player, but the Giants don't really have a good alternative when they want to give him a breather. It might be worth a shot to move Mauricio Dubon over there and let Solano and Flores stay at second base.

[RELATED: Krukow believes Astros getting "free pass" this season]

Slater Tater 

Austin Slater hit a solo shot in the eighth to get the Giants on the board. It was his third homer in three days and came on a 96 mph fastball from right-handed reliever Josh James. 

The Giants didn't have a hit against McCullers until Solano pulled a double past Alex Bregman's glove with one out in the seventh. The hit gave Solano a 15-game hitting streak, the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. He later added a second double.