Could the Astros trade for Madison Bumgarner?
The Astros are undeniably in need of starting pitching. Could adding Giants ace Madison Bumgarner be a realistic scenario?
The San Francisco Giants, in need of a new direction, hired Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi to be their new president of baseball operations. One of his main concerns this winter is to figure out what to do with ace Madison Bumgarner.
As ESPN’s Buster Olney examined, the decision is not as easy as one might think. Analytics show some decline in Bumgarner’s numbers, and he’s had injury troubles the past two seasons. He’s also set to hit free agency one year from now, and the team could be embarking on a rebuild.
This, of course, begs the question: Could the Astros actually have a chance to trade for him?
What Needs to Happen
This possibility largely hinges on what the Giants front office decides to do. If they plan on contending in the near future, or if they believe Bumgarner is a Giant for life, they may keep him. But they could also decide to get what they can for him now if they don’t see a realistic shot at contention right away.
For a full year of Bumgarner, the price will likely be high, and the Astros would need to outbid what I’m sure would be a host of potential suitors. A trade package comparable to the one they offered for Bryce Harper would be just a starting point, as it would probably take more than just that.
The Astros might also want some assurance that they can sign Bumgarner to an extension before he hits free agency. He’s making just $12 million in 2019 and should be able to cash in for much more than that, provided he remains healthy and effective.
Is He Worth It?
Bumgarner is a four-time All-Star and four-time top-10 Cy Young finisher. He also has a career 2.11 postseason ERA with three complete-game shutouts amongst his 14 starts. He’s 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA in the World Series, winning three rings and the 2014 NLCS and World Series MVP awards.
From 2011-2016, Bumgarner made no fewer than 31 starts and pitched at least 200 innings each season. His career-high ERA for a season is 3.37. Though he’s seemingly been in the league for a long time, he’s still just 29 years old. As a lefthander, he could essentially supplant — and be an upgrade over — Dallas Keuchel.
A pair of freak injuries have limited him to 38 total starts over the past two seasons. He’s still been effective when he’s pitched, but there is cause for concern. He posted a career-low K:BB ratio in 2018 thanks to a career-high walk rate and his lowest strikeout rate since his rookie season.
As Olney notes, Bumgarner’s fastball velocity has declined over the past five seasons while opponents’ OPS against the pitch has climbed from .619 in 2014 to .954 in 2018. He’s also allowed hard contact at progressively higher rates in that span as well. There’s reason to believe his best days could be behind him.
Yes, He’s Probably Worth It
It’s a bit of a gamble, but I’d say it’s a worthwhile one. Bumgarner doesn’t rely on velocity to blow hitters away, so he can still be effective with less zip on his four-seamer. He’s still relatively young, and the Astros staff could certainly find some ways to help him out.
He’s also arguably the most clutch postseason performer of his generation. Adding him to the rotation with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole would give the Astros a trio of aces to lead them in October. If he’s healthy, he should be able to give the Astros 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings of solid results, even if he may not be at his peak from a few years ago.
This is a situation for fans to monitor, because if the Giants make him available, they’ll have no shortage of teams calling about him. The Astros should be first on that list.