Madison Bumgarner

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies should go hard after Madison Bumgarner

Jack Fritz
December 06, 2018 - 11:26 am
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For the last two days, I haven’t been able to get this thought out of my head.

I need that vision to come true like I need oxygen.

The Phillies are, reportedly, one of three teams that are going after longtime San Francisco Giants ace, Madison Bumgarner, and for good reason. Bumgarner has been of the best starters in baseball for the last seven years and is up there with Curt Schilling as the best “big game” pitcher of the last two decades.

Simply put, Bumgarner is a horse. But eventually, even the best horses fall off, and the concern around baseball is that Bumgarner is closer to being on his last leg than one of the ten best starters in baseball.

I just don’t buy that and I think the Phillies should do everything in their power, within reason of course, to go acquire Bumgarner this offseason as he enters into the last year of his contract with the Giants.

Need for a No. 2 

First, the Phillies second biggest need, outside of landing Harper/Machado, this offseason is getting a reliable No. 2 starter in here. If the season started right now, I guess Jake Arrieta would be the Phils No. 2 starter—which just proves my point more that if you’re trying to compete next year, and you don’t shed out $400-plus million to Harper or Machado if you’re not trying to compete right away, than you need an actual No. 2 starter in here.

Related: Phillies wise to avoid Corbin at 6 years, $140 million​

Bumgarner is the best starter available right now. Sure, Charlie Morton and JA Happ would be nice pieces to a rotation, but they’re both over 35 and won’t be here for the long haul. I would much rather add those guys to a Nola/Bumgarner 1-2 punch than rely on them being No. 2 starters. I get not handing out $140 million to Patrick Corbin—last year was an outlier year, throws a bunch of sliders, etc.,—but that leaves the market very thin and Bumgarner sticks out like a sore thumb.

Now, getting a No. 2 starter is important but is Bumgarner the right guy?

The tricky part about evaluating Bumgarner is that you’re giving up significant prospect value. And if you’re giving up significant prospect value, you’re definitely planning on signing him long term. If you’re the Phils, are you comfortable banking on two fluke injuries, a dirt bike incident and a broken hand from a line drive, as the main cause to the downward trends the last two years or is he a horse on his leg?

If you’re asking me, I’m banking on Bumgarner to age gracefully into his mid-30’s and if I was Matt Klentak, I’d feel more comfortable giving up prospects and a Cliff Lee-type deal—5 years $120 million—to Bumgarner than bank on Patrick Corbin being the guy he was last year for the next 6 years.

Why? Because Bumgarner is one of the craftiest and smartest pitchers in the game, he doesn’t put much pressure on his arm at all and those injuries were really flukey, and most importantly, weren’t pitching related.

A lot of my belief in Bumgarner goes back to last Spring Training. If you talked to Giants officials, they would tell you that Bumgarner was due for a career year in 2018. Boy, that doesn’t sound like a guy on his last leg. In watching him in Spring Training, before taking a line drive off the hand that ended up breaking his hand and thus derailing his entire season, Bumgarner looked like Bumgarner. He was sitting 93-94 MPH on his fastball, he was getting inside to righties and his slider was wicked. Then Whit Merrifield hit a liner off his hand and broke it, setting back Bumgarner for the 2018 campaign. When he came back his velocity was down to 91 and he couldn’t get inside to righties, which in turn led to his fastball leaking out over the plate and eventually a 5.28 ERA in September.

Oof.

Expectations

Now, if the Phils trade for, and extend, Bumgarner am I banking on him returning to top five starter in the game form? Not quite, but I think it’s reasonable to expect five years of around sub-3.40 ERA ball, winning a bunch of big games for this team behind Aaron Nola and giving the Phillies a fighting chance in playoff series’. To me, Bumgarner is your classic lefty horse cut from the same mold as Andy Pettitte, Jon Lester and C.C Sabathia, and the only reason he’s not thought of as one of those guys is because of these fluke injuries. Even in, what was perceived as a down year and a disastrous September, Bumgarner finished his age 28 (yes, only 28) season with a 3.26 ERA. If the Phillies traded for Bumgarner they would be getting a guy that can pitch 200 innings of sub-3.40 ERA ball (at least) at a discount.

That’s why it’s imperative that they strike now.

Concern

My concern is that the Giants hold onto Bumgarner until the trade deadline. He comes out, looks like Bumgarner, and the price for him, prospect-wise, goes way up. If the Phillies went for him now, they could site the injuries and his peripherals as a reason why they shouldn’t have to pay top dollar for a guy heading into the last year of his deal, and they’re right. May it cost the Phillies Adonis Medina and a major league guy? Probably. But that’s the risk you run when you’re taking a chance on buying one of the best pitchers in the sport on a discount.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt heading into a meeting with Bryce Harper or Manny Machado with a proven, big-game horse like Madison Bumgarner to add to the mix.

Bumgarner is a risk, the velocity drops are concerning, the strike out rates have declined and his all world command wasn’t there in September. But these kinds of seasons happen to guys that are morphing into the latter stages on their careers. Andy Pettitte in his age 31 season had a 4.02 ERA before reeling off a 3.90 ERA season and a 2.39 ERA season at 33 years old. Jon Lester had a 3.75 ERA in his age 29 season, the same as a Bumgarner even though he’s coming off a 3.26 ERA season, before reeling off 3 straight 2.5 ERA seasons or lower. In fact, both Lester and Bumgarner had the exact same SO/9 in their age 29 season. C.C Sabathia in his age 29 season? 3.37 ERA and a SO/9 of 7.5. All around the same thing as Bumgarner.

The Phils need their veteran, experienced guy to pair with Aaron Nola. The Cubs did it when they got Jon Lester, the Astros did it when they went and got Andy Pettitte and then did it again, to an extent, when they got Justin Verlander. The Red Sox did it when they got Chris Sale and the Yankees did it when they got CC Sabathia in 2009. Unfortunately, Jake Arrieta is not that guy, but Madison Bumgarner is.

Go get your guy, bring in Harper or Machado and let’s have the NL East belong to the Phillies for the next five years.

 

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