And So It Begins: Goodbye to a Franchise Icon?

 

by Dr Lefty

The stories were all over the Internet yesterday. Buster Olney of ESPN. Jon Morosi of mlb.com. Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Madison Bumgarner is available on the trade market.

This is not surprising. When the Giants brought in a new president of baseball operations, we all knew that one of the implications of bringing in an outside perspective was that there would be no sacred cows on the roster, no room for sentimentality. There are only two reasons for the Giants to keep Bumgarner right now: (1) The Giants think they’ll compete in 2019 and want Bum to lead their rotation and/or (2) The Giants intend and want to sign Bum to a long-term contract after next season. Neither, for various reasons, seems all that likely at this moment in time.

What is surprising to me is how vehemently certain the national baseball writers are that Bumgarner will be practically worthless on the trade market. Check out these quotes:

 

“I do believe they’ll listen to offers on Bumgarner, but I think they’re going to find themselves stunned by how little interest there is in him.”–Bob Nightengale, USA Today.

 

“Teams are saying, ‘You know, that might be a player you might want to move sooner rather than later…He’s a legacy player, but…from what I’m hearing from other teams is there are metrics on Bumgarner that are not promising, especially the damage done by opposing teams to his fastball.”–Buster Olney, ESPN

 

“Even franchise icon Madison Bumgarner, who has one season left before free agency, would appear to have limited value at this point…In other words, with the decline in peripherals across the board, Bumgarner is more valuable to the Giants right now than another team.”–David Schoenfield, ESPN

 

 

I do understand what they’re saying, but I’m not so sure that Bumgarner is quite so utterly lacking in value as they suggest. Consider that even with two serious injuries and the declining peripherals, Bum still had ERAs in the low 3s the last two seasons. Consider that he’s only going into his age-29 season. And consider, most of all, that any team that obtains him right now is only committing to one year of his services, and that at a modest price for a pitcher with his track record. If you’re the Yankees, trying to get over the postseason hump with the formidable Astros and Red Sox in the same league, or if you’re the Astros, trying to get back on top before you start losing players to free agency, or if you’re the Braves, trying to make a statement in a weak division and league…one reasonably priced year of Bumgarner might sound just about right to you.

For Farhan Zaidi, the math comes down to what constitutes a good-enough return to justify selling off a franchise hero…and that takes us back full circle to what the Giants think their short-term outlook is (spoiler: not very good) and what their long-term plan with Bumgarner is (proceed with caution). Bottom line, though, if he doesn’t think the Giants can compete in 2019 and is dubious about an extension or free-agent deal for Bumgarner, the right business decision is to get what you can for him right now.

Don’t get me wrong: As a fan, I don’t want that to happen. After Tim Lincecum left the Giants, I transferred that adoration to Bumgarner. Of all the players on the Giants, he’s the one that will hurt the most for me if he goes. But as the Saturday blogger, I’m trying to be objective and think like Zaidi would–in fact, Zaidi must think this way if he’s going to be responsible in doing the job he was hired to do.

 

Related thoughts

Again, trying to think like Zaidi, I’d be considering two separate but connected issues. First, the Giants’ payroll is bloated. Even with the departures of Pence and McCutchen and with the CBT limit going up this year, they’re still very top-heavy with salaries, especially given the terrible outcomes over the last two seasons, and a lot of that is dead or nearly dead/in a coma money (Cueto, Samardzija, Melancon). You want to try to re-allocate that money, if you can, in more productive ways.  If you move Bumgarner, and maybe Belt, you’ve freed up another $30 mil or so for 2019–and longer than that for Belt–to go with the $30 mil of cap room they already have. Trade two expensive contracts, maybe even trim a couple of bullpen salaries (more on this in a minute), and you have a bunch of money that you could spread around in a number of interesting ways. As I said last week, I believe Zaidi will go for quantity (a number of different free agent signings) rather than one big splash (i.e., Bryce Harper).

Second, the Giants’ farm system is weak and the current roster is old. Assuming you can get a few good prospects for Bumgarner and Belt, you’ve strengthened the future while re-allocating payroll in the present. If you’re not seriously trying to compete in 2019 (I can hear the howls from Surf Maui all the way from Florida, and I haven’t even pushed “Publish” yet), you don’t have to insist on major-league-ready prospects–just good ones at any level who can strengthen your organization.

 

Roster questions

Coming up quickly are the deadlines for either offering players arbitration or non-tendering them. Also coming up is the deadline to add minor leaguers to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. These are connected decisions, so let’s look at both of them.

Minor leaguers

There was a good piece on McCovey Chronicles a couple days ago, speculating on whom the Giants might protect. It’s worth a read.

The short version is that he predicts the Giants will protect four players, all pitchers: Logan Webb (2014 fourth-rounder out of Rocklin High School), Melvin Adon (signed out of the Dominican Republic, triple-digit fastball, has been very impressive in the Arizona Fall League), Juan DePaula (obtained in the trade for Andrew McCutchen at the end of August), and Sam Wolff (obtained last year for Matt Moore and also having and excellent AFL).  Borderline guys left off the list include C.J. Hinojosa, Johneshwy Fargas, Manuel Geraldo, Tyler Rogers, and Sandro Fabian. Considering that Zaidi has spoken strongly about making sure every inch of the 40-man roster is valuable, it seems likely that the team will indeed go sparingly on adding players this month.

The Giants currently have 35 players on their 40-man roster, so adding those four would allow them to leave a spot open for their own Rule 5 draftee. However (also pointed out in the article), Zaidi could decide to trim some players off the current 40-man, with pitchers Chase Johnson, Josh Osich, and Derek Law appearing to be the most likely targets. (Steven Okert may have bought himself some time with a nice September.)

Arbitration-eligible players

The Giants have already made one decision by dropping Kelby Tomlinson (who was arb-eligible) off the 40-man roster. The others still in play are Joe Panik, Will Smith, Hunter Strickland, Sam Dyson, and Gorkys Hernandez. Here’s a list from MLB Trade Rumors as to what they’d be predicted to earn. The number in parentheses is their service time.

  • Sam Dyson (4.142) – $5.4MM
  • Joe Panik (4.100) – $4.2MM
  • Will Smith (5.155) – $4.1MM
  • Hunter Strickland (3.163) – $2.5MM
  • Gorkys Hernandez (3.013) – $1.6MM

I’d say Panik and Smith are sure to be offered arbitration. As for the others? Have you seen the list of free agent relievers? It’s long. It’s not hard to imagine the combined $7.9 million for Dyson and Strickland being productively re-purposed elsewhere, especially if Zaidi likes cheaper options like Moronta, Black, and maybe even Adon before too long to fill in the back end.  As for Gorkys–well, $1.6 mil isn’t that much for a guy who was one of the team leaders in homers last year and who can play anywhere in the outfield.

So these are all connected decisions. If anyone is non-tendered, that leaves more 40-man spots to protect minor leaguers. On the other hand, the fringe-y guys listed above may not really be worth protecting.  With a new sheriff in town, I see some pruning in all three areas (minor leaguers, current 40-man guys, arbitration-eligible guys). We’ll know more pretty soon.

 

Is there any hope for the Giants?

David Schoenfield of ESPN has always been a Giants-hater. Even when they were coming off World Series wins, he was sneering at them and predicting them to be maybe the fifteenth-best team in the majors the next year…we’re talking before they’d even finished cleaning up the confetti on Market Street. So it’s not surprising that his latest piece gleefully details all the problems facing Farhan Zaidi and finishes with the sneering tag line: “Good luck.”

We all know the problems facing the Giants, and there’s no need to get defensive about it. Still, I’ve watched other teams go from nowhere to relevant in fairly short order (most recent example: the last-place 2012 Red Sox became the 2013 World Series champions; plus there was the Sabean-led 1996 to 1997 turnaround). The Giants do still have some assets, specifically money and lots of it, and newly hired leadership. And as badly as the 2018 season finished, it’s worth remembering that they were .500 on the last day of August.  I for one am not ready to write off the Giants in 2019 before we’ve even carved the turkey or before Zaidi’s had a chance to do–well, anything.

Happy Thanksgiving in advance and please pray for rain in California. Lefty out.