The other day, Charley Walters and Darren Wolfson reported that the Twins were talking with the San Francisco Giants about a potential trade to acquire left handed starter Madison Bumgarner. Doogie also says its a bit early in the process, but that has never stopped rampant fan speculation.
I have no doubt that @Charley_Walters received this information from someone very plugged in. Can add late tonight that someone very plugged in says this is premature. But I also have no doubt that it's worth monitoring even closer moving forward. #MNTwins pic.twitter.com/qkZdsMvRGm— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 16, 2019
Since I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about a random NL West team, let alone a rebuilding NL West team, I reached out to someone a lot more familiar with Bumgarner and the Giants to learn a little more about what we might be able to expect from Bumgarner, and the Giants potential trade goals.
Bryan Murphy is my counterpart over at McCovey Chronicles, which I can never spell right the first time, and which is our SBNation sister site covering the Giants. Bryan was not only nice enough to answer some questions for me, but took the time to really dive in, do some research, and give me some GREAT answers to my questions, which you will find below.
Bryan Murphy: Thanks for reaching out. These are weird times for everyone involved. The Giants haven’t been sellers in over twenty years. With new management in place this season, it’s hard to get a read on what they’re looking for; although, we can assume that they are open to acquiring the best possible players, regardless of position, because of the dearth of talent in the organization. If your readers are wondering why they’ve never heard about the Giants in most discussions about farm systems, it’s because it has been ill-maintained, and used primarily to fix whatever ailed the major league roster. That chicken has come home to roost and here we are, the Giants nearly midway through their third straight losing season and have the second or third-worst record in baseball since the second half of 2016.
Oh, but you had specific questions. Let me stop rambling and answer them:
1. Twins fans are absolutely clamoring for an ace right now, and while Bumgarner might have been that guy a few years ago, I don’t think that it is fair to expect that of him right now. From what I can see, I think he would slot in as the Twins third or fourth starter. We’ve been calling him a “left-handed Kyle Gibson.” What do you think we would be able to expect from him for the rest of the season?
A year ago, the Giants’ old front office might’ve targeted Kyle Gibson even with the team 16.5 games out of first place. Otherwise, yeah there are some similarities between Gibson and Bumgarner on paper: similar FIP, fastball velocity, hard hit rates, average exit velocity, hits per 9, walks per 9 and home runs per 9 if you’re just looking at this year’s numbers. And, I get it -- sabrmetrics are setup in such a way so that if you never watch any game you should be able to look at the metrics and understand everything without every having watched a single pitch, but there are some differences between the two that are more then superficial: Bumgarner’s younger (though, admittedly, the +800 or so extra innings pitched included the three postseason runs wipes out that advantage), his third time through a batting order isn’t quite as bad as Gibson’s (.833 OPS vs. .905 -- or 115 sOPS+ vs. 133 sOPS+) and that kind of workload is why Bumgarner still has some value. He has also pitched against better competition than Gibson has. Bumgarner’s opponents sport a combined .519 winning percentage -- three starts (so far) against the Dodgers, the Yankees, Braves, and Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Brewers. Against these +.500 teams, he has an 85 sOPS+. Gibson is at 110.
That’s what the Twins would be buying: the story of Madison Bumgarner, Big Game Pitcher. His velocity has finally bounced back, and what were once fears of permanent damage to his shoulder following his dirt bike accident in 2017 have now been put to rest with a pitcher who more or less looks like the Bumgarner of old -- the boost in walk rates, home runs, exit velocity, and hard hit rates notwithstanding. It seems like something close to what he’s done through 15 starts in 2019 could be his ceiling the rest of the way, unless the Twins see something they can tweak to fix the walk and home runs issues. Given the new balls and a potential change on Bumgarner’s part from the NL to the AL, I wouldn’t figure the HR rate to be fixable, though. That’s always been sort of his thing. Even when he was getting Cy Young votes, he was allowing 1.0 HR/9.
2. Since Bumgarner is a free agent after this season, and we already have a couple other starters in that boat, being able to re-sign him would be a huge plus. What do you think he might be looking for on his next contract?
This is a great question I can’t answer with any certainty. He signed a below market contract way back when. He’ll be just 30 years old, but again, he does have a lot of mileage on that arm. He might be aiming for a Patrick Corbin-level deal, but Corbin jumped up a level as he entered free agency. Bumgarner could be on a bottomless down slope of his career, or maybe he’s settled into what he’s going to be the next five to however many years left he has as a major league pitcher. In either case, all 30 teams are at least as smart as each other and if there’s not human collusion going on to sabotage free agency, then there’s definitely software collusion happening somewhere. MLB’s central computer -- the same one that spits out MLB Draft slot values, terrible new ideas to attract young fans, and every terrible replay ruling you see -- certainly won’t consider Bumgarner’s track record when deciding his future salary, so the push-pull between 6 years and $140 million and Charlie Morton’s 2-year, $30 million deal will be something to watch.
3. Bumgarner has a bit of a negative reputation as a “unwritten rules” guy. How much of that is real, and how much is just hype? Is it something that might impact the chemistry in a clubhouse with a lot of players who are a bit more celebratory in nature?
Bumgarner doesn’t like it when dudes show him up and he doesn’t like when dudes test his patience. He also doesn’t like it when he perceives umpires to be bad at their jobs. Here’s a video from his minor league days being ejected after he went at the ump. I won’t deny it if you showed me video or something, but I can’t recall him ever being the “red ass” Bumgarner when he’s not pitching, so it’s not like he’s sitting in the dugout waiting to police somebody and he’s not galloping around the clubhouse telling people to knock it off and turn it down or anything like that. Most of his run-ins have come against division rivals (not all of them -- there was a famous incident in Milwaukee last year). I think he just comes to genuinely dislike a lot of his opponents and when they do something positive against him, he really wants to let them have it.
All that to say, I think the public perception isn’t wrong, there’s just a little more to it than what makes the highlight shows. But not much more. If he’s on your team, it’s not terrible, but when he is and the team is losing or his meltdown leads to a loss, it’s not so fun. Otherwise, when it’s not his day to pitch, he seems like a chill guy. Accessible and maybe even a little fun. But, really, he loves to pitch (Athletic link).
Giants manager Bruce Bochy recounted a story from just last week. The team had a travel day and took a train from Baltimore to New York for a series against the Mets in Queens. Everyone enjoyed a free afternoon and evening in Manhattan.
“He could have taken the day off and done some sightseeing like everybody else,” Bochy said. “But no, he’s got his routine. He’s got to throw. And it’s got to be at the ballpark, which as you know, is a pretty good haul from the hotel. I guess he didn’t want to bother any of the coaches.”
Bochy was standing in front of the hotel when Bumgarner and his wife, Ali, were returning from Citi Field. Bochy asked Bumgarner who played catch with him.
Bumgarner pointed to Ali.
How many major-league wives can handle 88 mph cutters on flat ground?
“You know, they’re inseparable,” Bochy said. “They’re partners in everything, on the road, wherever. Those two are always together.
4. The Twins also need relief help, and the Giants appear to have a few relievers who might fit the bill. The name we’ve seen batted around the most is Will Smith. Is he potentially available, and what other names should be discussing?
The only Giants not available for trade are Buster Posey, Joey Bart, and Heliot Ramos. The rest are either untradeable, undesirable, or Will Smith and the rest of the bullpen. Smith is an elite closer who’s making just $4.2 million in the final year of his deal before he hits free agency. A Bumgarner-Smith combo deal is certainly within the realm of possibility, particularly if Farhan Zaidi thinks such a deal would bring the most value the Giants’ way. Smith’s pending free agency is what probably makes him less palatable in a combo package with Bumgarner for the Twins. Sam Dyson has one more year of salary arbitration and Tony Watson has a player option, so, they might be more desirable pieces, and they’re still some of the best relievers in baseball.
Will Smith would seemingly fall into the Zach Britton arena of value. The Yankees traded three prospects for him last July, including their end-of-2017 #11 and #22 prospects on MLB Pipeline. Theoretically, the Giants could get three prospects for Bumgarner, too. It seems unlikely the Twins would trade six players for two Giants on expiring deals.
The Giants also have cheap and team-controlled arms like Reyes Moronta (averaging 97-98 mph with his fastball) and Trevor Gott (whom the Nationals just gave away for free before the start of the season) who have been highly effective and would provide a lot of surplus value. Obviously, the Giants would make note of that when asking the Twins for something in return...
5. What would it cost in terms of prospects to get a deal done for just Bumgarner, and how much more would it cost us to have a reliever added to the deal?
I’ve not been able to sleep for the past two weeks while considering this very question (kidding). But just so you know where I’m coming from with my pending answer, here are a few factors to keep in mind:
1) Madison Bumgarner is more valuable to the Giants than any other team.
2) Even so, the Bumgarner name brand has market value.
3) If playoff-bound teams are trying to do everything possible to insure a deep run -- even though the playoffs are a crap shoot -- then they’ll have to pay more. Houses in a flood zone have to pay for that extra insurance coverage.
Let’s put a pin in the Bumgarner + reliever scenario for a moment and just look at the headline move: The Minnesota Twins acquire Madison Bumgarner from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for...
I don’t know anything about this front office. After 23 years of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, fans had institutional memory. It became easier to predict what they’d do in these later years and after a time it became clear what their goals were. Farhan Zaidi aims to rebuild the Giants, obviously, but we don’t know for certain what direction he’s going to take. Just based on his track record, he seems to be looking for hitters with a career 1.5-2.0 K/BB, some power, and definitely positional flexibility. Pitching-wise, high velocity fastball-slider arms seem to be the industry standard now, and so I’ll assume that’s the Giants’ default search criteria until we get a greater sample of moves. The Giants drafted just 15 pitchers with their 40 picks in this year’s draft.
Then I started to think about some historical comps. Back in 2011, the Giants traded their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, in exchange for Carlos Beltran’s expiring contract. Beltran, of course, was a top 10 hitter at the time of the trade. Bumgarner is in the mid-40s or 50s, depending on what metric you want to use to rank him; although, simply put, Beltran had an OPS+ of 151 and Bumgarner has an ERA+ of 109. Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he’d take either the Giants’ top hitting prospect, OF Gary Brown or Wheeler in the deal, and the Giants decided to keep Brown. So, for a player 51% better than league average, the Giants had to surrender one of their top two players. For a pitcher who’s only 9% better than the league average, what would be fair? But is that even a fair comp? Beltran was a borderline Hall of Famer at the time. Madison Bumgarner is not. Also, there’s the whole comparing pitchers to hitters thing.
So, what about the Astros’ deal for Justin Verlander in 2017? At the time, Verlander had a 117 ERA+ and was still under contract through 2019, albeit at $28 million a year ($8 million per year of which Detroit paid down). The Astros sent Detroit their #6, #9, and #23-ranked prospects (per MLB Pipeline’s end of 2016 rankings) plus a player to be named later. So, we’re easily into the top 30 for trade chips for a 34-year old pitcher who was making a lot of money, had a lot of miles on his arm, and was in clear decline the previous three seasons (Verlander’s ERA+ from 2014-2016: 110; Bumgarner’s ERA+ from 2016-2018: 133) before rebounding.
Okay, that was a long preamble. I really thought about this, did some research, and then was reminded by Baseball Reference that Farhan Zaidi dealt with Thad Levine just last year in the Logan Forsythe-Brian Dozier trade. That was a weird one in that Forsythe and Dozier’s salaries were the same, but Dozier was performing so much better. But the Dodgers had to give up two prospects along with Forsythe: their 5th round pick of 2014 (Devin Smeltzer) and 7th round pick from 2016 (Luke Raley). Raley was the Dodgers’ #27 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Dodgers Top 30 at the end of 2017. Let’s take a look at the reverse and equivalent in 2019: the Twins’ #27 prospect on Pipeline’s year end list before this season was Kohl Stewart. The 5th round pick from four years ago, Alex Robinson, is a 23-year old A-ball reliever who appears to have had Tommy John surgery or extensive injuries. The 7th round pick from two years ago is pitcher Ryley Widell, who looks to have returned from Tommy John surgery.
That’d be a great deal for the Twins, but I don’t see that being a reasonable starting point. I think you’d agree that Madison Bumgarner is more valuable than Brian Dozier. I’m not suggesting Bumgarner for Kirilloff, though. Not even suggesting Bumgarner and Smith for Kirilloff. But the Twins’ top thirty is flooded with position players. The Giants need talented position players at every level, outfielders and shortstops in particular. But they also need pitching. They, uh, they’re really bad. They kinda need everything, if you hadn’t already guessed. But you’ve been waiting for me to throw out a trade proposal or two, so here I go:
The sum of my knowledge regarding the Twins’ system can be found on this MLB Pipeline Top 30 list I’m looking at right now; and, I can’t know what the scouts are looking for or who the Giants value in the Twins’ system, nor do I have a sense who Thad Levine values most. Generally speaking, it feels safe to say that most GMs and scouting directors are more comfortable with moving on from players they did not draft or develop. By that measure, gimme Jorge Alcala plus two players not in the top 30 for Madison Bumgarner seems reasonable. Add Will Smith into the mix and I’m thinking we’re in the territory of something like Trevor Larnach, Luis Arraez, and/or Jorge Alcala (if or, then maybe a couple of other “lottery ticket” unranked prospects) territory.
So, to answer your question, I don’t know. Alcala seems to have the fastball-slider combo the Giants are looking for (a 70 fastball!) and the Twins are in a spot where they don’t need to wait around for an arm like that to develop. Same goes for most of their position prospects, actually. Come on, Twins, stop being greedy. Give us your leftovers. They’ll be the best meal the Giants have had in decades.
Would you trade Lanarch, Arraez, and Alcala for Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith?
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