Phillies free-agent target: Madison Bumgarner

Phillies free-agent target: Madison Bumgarner

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on Madison Bumgarner, a four-time National League All-Star and three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants.

The vitals

It’s hard to believe that Bumgarner just turned 30 in August. He’s already pitched for more than a decade in the majors and has finished in the top 10 of NL Cy Young voting four times. An October stud, he helped pitch the Giants to four postseason berths and three World Series titles. He was World Series MVP in 2014. 

Bumgarner is a throwback, a big, strong, don't-mess-with-me left-hander who gives his team quality innings. He swings a good bat, too, as evidenced in 19 career homers and 14 career pinch-hitting appearances in which he has four singles, a double and three walks. 

Bumgarner has carried a heavy load with seven seasons of 200-plus innings in the last nine years. He missed significant time with freak injuries in 2017 and 2018. He injured his throwing shoulder in a dirt bike mishap in 2017 and suffered a broken hand when he was struck by a line drive in 2018.

Why he fits

Apologies for sounding like a broken record, but the Phillies need a major upgrade in starting pitching and Bumgarner, like previously profiled free agents Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler and Stephen Strasburg, would provide one.

There were rumblings of Bumgarner being on the decline early in 2019, but he bounced back and proved his health by pitching to a 3.90 ERA in 207⅔ innings and holding opposing hitters to a .228 batting average over his final 15 starts. Bumgarner’s fastball, which had shown signs of slippage, came back as the season went on. The pitch ranges from 88 to 94 mph and sits around 92. He also features a good cutter that he likes to use a lot.

The Phillies have designs on winning in 2020 and Bumgarner is the definition of a winner. He’d bring a toughness to the pitching staff the way J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper bring a toughness to the lineup. Bumgarner is also left-handed and that should help.

Word is the North Carolina native would like to return to San Francisco or pitch near home and that could help the Phillies. But the Atlanta Braves are interested and they have geography and a ready-to-win team on their side.

Why he doesn’t fit

The heavy workload is a concern on a long-term deal, but probably not a deal-breaker because Bumgarner got better as last season went on and the Phillies are starved for pitching. 

Cozy Citizens Bank Park could be a concern because Bumgarner is a fly-ball pitcher who had the lowest ground-ball percentage (35.8) among NL starters last season. Also, he benefitted greatly by doing his work in that pitchers paradise at 24 Willie Mays Plaza in San Francisco last season. He had a 2.93 ERA and a .619 opponents OPS in 19 starts at home last season as opposed to 5.29 and .840 in 15 starts on the road.

The price tag

Bumgarner was one of baseball’s great bargains over the last decade. He signed a six-year, $35.5 million deal before the 2012 season and delivered a lot of greatness on his way to winning three World Series rings. He made $12 million each of the last two seasons as the contract contained two option years. Now, Bumgarner is looking to get paid. With so many teams needing pitching, he could be looking at something in the neighborhood of four years and $75 million.

Scout’s take

“He proved his health in 2019. His velocity came back to its pre-injury standard late in the season. He uses that cutter a lot. You’ll end up paying for a lot of what he did in the past because he’s not an ace. However, he’s still a strong No. 3 or a fringy No. 2. He might be best staying in the NL West with big yards in San Francisco and San Diego. Philadelphia has a huge hole in its rotation, but that small yard could be a concern. His intangibles are off the charts and any team would benefit from his toughness.”

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news


At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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