Zack Wheeler

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

With the Winter Meetings rapidly approaching, MLB free agency is heating up.

One of the top available pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner -- is expected to be in high demand, particularly now that Cole Hamels has signed with the Braves and Zack Wheeler reportedly has agreed to a five-year contract with the Phillies. For teams who scoff at Gerrit Cole's price tag, Bumgarner might be the logical compromise.

The Giants have been "in communication" with Bumgarner, but rumor has it another interested team has entered the mix.

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Thursday that the St. Louis Cardinals have been linked to Bumgarner, citing a source.

St. Louis already has brought back veteran Adam Wainwright on a one-year deal, and after he, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson, there appears to be an opening for Bumgarner in the starting rotation. Signing with the Cardinals would not only allow Bumgarner to continue pitching in the National League, but would also allow him to continue taking his own at-bats, which we know he loves so much. He also has been linked to teams such as the Twins and White Sox, but would forfeit his at-bats to a DH in each of those situations.

[RELATED: How Wheeler's reported $118M contract could affect MadBum]

While Bumgarner is expected to receive a contract in excess of $100 million, Feinsand suggests Wheeler's reported $118 million payday might serve to increase the total.

How Zack Wheeler's reported $118M contract affects Madison Bumgarner market

How Zack Wheeler's reported $118M contract affects Madison Bumgarner market

A former Giants top prospect is getting over $100 million on the free-agent market, while San Francisco's longtime ace looks to sign his own lucrative contract. 

Zack Wheeler, whom the Giants selected No. 6 overall in the 2009 MLB Draft and traded to the Mets in 2011, reportedly has agreed to five-year contract with the Phillies. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday that Wheeler is signing for $118 million. 

The Athletic's Marc Craig was first to report Wheeler had agreed to terms with the Phillies. 

Does this mean Madison Bumgarner is set for a major payday his first time as a free agent? There are arguments for both sides. 

It really shouldn't come as a shock that Wheeler is getting over $100 million on the open market. MLB Trade Rumors predicted the right-hander would sign a five-year, $100 million contract with none other than the Phillies. But the website has MadBum signing a much cheaper, four-year, $72 million deal with the Twins. 

Those predictions came one month ago on Nov. 5. Much could change in that span, and it appears Bumgarner now is believed to sign a much heftier contract. 

USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported Wednesday that the Braves turned to veteran pitcher Cole Hamels after feeling Bumgarner's price tag likely will exceed $100 million. There are plenty of reasons for Bumgarner and his representatives to believe he deserves nine figures after seeing Wheeler's deal, too. 

After two freak injuries in 2017 and 2018, Bumgarner proved he was healthy and still a workhorse in 2019. Despite turning 30 years old in August, he led the majors with 34 starts and pitched 207 2/3 innings. The left-hander's velocity actually rose, too. 

Bumgarner's average four-seam fastball was 91.72 mph last season, according to Brooks Baseball, which is his highest since 2015. While MadBum is considered an old-school personality, he gave those in the sabermetrics community a big reason for optimism last season. The spin rate on his four-seamer went from 2,081 in 2018 to 2,405 last season, according to Baseball Savant

Though Bumgarner's fastball velocity in 2019 was in just the 10th percentile, his fastball spin rate was in the 87th percentile. 

Wheeler is considered a statcast sweetheart around the industry. He averaged nearly 97 miles per hour on his fastball last year. According to data from Baseball Savant, Wheeler's fastball velocity is in the 94th percentile, his opponent exit velocity is in the 90th percentile and his hard-hit percentage is in 82nd percentile. 

[RELATED: Gabe Kapler hasn't spoken with free agent Madison Bumgarner]

And though Bumgarner only is 10 months older than Wheeler, he has thrown over 1,000 more regular-season innings than the former Met, along with an extra 102 1/3 in the playoffs. 

Don't be surprised if Wheeler still earns more than the World Series hero, but MadBum certainly could sign a much larger contract than first expected on the open market. 

Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency

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USATSI

Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency

Zack Wheeler finally stood on the mound in San Francisco on July 10, 2013, four years after the Giants selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. There was one problem, though: Wheeler was wearing a Mets jersey instead of having "Giants" across his chest. 

It has been over six years since Wheeler first pitched in San Francisco, and he now finds himself in an interesting and ironically comical place. The man the Giants traded him for, Carlos Beltran, recently was named manager of none other than the Mets right as Wheeler becomes a free agent for the first time. And you know who could use Wheeler right now? 

The Giants. 

As The Athletic's Grant Brisbee put it on Monday, "about a tenth of one percent of this has to do with the scenario being funny." Let's face it -- the scenario's hilarious. The reality, however, is Wheeler truly might be the perfect fit for the Giants this offseason. 

Wheeler now is 29 years old and will turn 30 in May. The right-hander is ranked as Jim Bowden's No. 6 free agent, and the former general manager predicts Wheeler will sign a four-year, $74 million contract, which is $10 million less than Bowden has Bumgarner making on the open market. MLB Trade Rumors placed a more expensive price tag on Wheeler at five years and $100 million. 

There's no perfect formula to predict contracts, but it's easy to see Wheeler fall in that gap between $70-100 million. Those figures also would fit much more in line with what Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is likely to spend, as opposed to, say, Gerrit Cole-type money

For his past and future trajectory, Wheeler is one of the most interesting and talented free agents this offseason. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and wound up spending two-and-a-half years away from a major league mound. The past two seasons, he has proven to be fully healthy and one of the best arms in baseball. 

Wheeler has a 3.65 ERA over 60 starts the last two years, while averaging 189 innings pitched per season. He has a 1.19 WHIP over that span and 3.37 FIP. Now that he's healthy, he looks like a prime candidate to be the next Cole at a tick of the price tag. 

Cole and Wheeler both are listed at 6-foot-4 and throw absolute gas. Wheeler averaged nearly 97 miles per hour on his fastball in 2019. According to data from Baseball Savant, Wheeler's fastball velocity is in the 94th percentile, his opponent exit velocity is in the 90th percentile and his hard-hit percentage is in 82nd percentile. 

The most similar pitcher to Wheeler last season based on velocity and movement, was Cole, per Baseball Savant.

His past injury history could scare teams, but the last two seasons should be a clear indication of who Wheeler is and can become. This is an ace in the making who looks like he can get better and better. The one downfall is the Mets gave him the qualifying offer. San Francisco likely would lose a second-round draft pick if they signed Wheeler.

Numbers don't lie, though. It's clear he's well worth that. 

[RELATED: Why MadBum was called 'most fascinating' MLB free agent]

What Wheeler does best is exactly what everyone is looking for. He's a pitcher with high velocity, the ability to rack up strikeouts and keeps the ball in the park. He won't break the bank and should be at the front of the rotation when the Giants are ready to contend again. 

Timmy already came home. Now it's time for Zack Wheeler to do the same and become a Giant, once and for all.