Lessons to take from Bumgarner’s free agency
Giants, Dodgers can’t be scared of big bets
Whether it’s a glancing jab or a punch to the gut, the hits keep on coming for San Francisco Giants fans.
Since the Giants concluded their third consecutive losing season, fans have watched their lone All-Star depart in free agency, seen the franchise cut ties with its home run, RBI leader and Willie Mac Award winner and followed a manager search that led the club to a controversial hire with an underwhelming track record.
Sunday’s news that Giants legend Madison Bumgarner is leaving to sign a reasonable contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks may not be a knockout blow, but it’s the most punishing development yet in an offseason full of brutal twists and turns.
Over the last three years, the Giants’ dreadful on-field performance has made it difficult to keep fans engaged. Over the last three months, the Giants’ off-the-field efforts have made it nearly impossible for many fans to find joy in supporting the club.
In a vacuum, many of the franchise’s recent decisions make sense.
A rebuilding club doesn’t need to spend more than $13 million per year for a closer, so letting Will Smith walk in free agency is understandable.
A team that’s eager to give young outfielders such as Jaylin Davis and Steven Duggar playing time doesn’t need to spend $10 million in 2020 to keep Kevin Pillar, so non-tendering him frees up the Giants to evaluate other options who could be key members of a future core.
An organization that has struggled in recent years to turn promising prospects into meaningful big-league contributors could benefit from a manager with a background in player development, so hiring Gabe Kapler meshes with the team’s new priorities.
Failing to re-sign Bumgarner, one of the most successful pitchers in franchise history, keeps with the front office’s plan to maintain as much financial flexibility for the future as possible. But in the meantime, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris have backed themselves into the ropes.
When Zaidi was hired last November, the Giants were optimistic in his abilities to build a sustainable model for future success that would allow the franchise to challenge the Dodgers for NL West supremacy on an annual basis. The Dodgers have become a remarkable juggernaut, capturing seven straight division titles en route to posting the best regular-season record this decade.
Executives in Los Angeles, where Zaidi served as the general manager for four seasons, believe it’s only a matter of time before a three-decade World Series title drought comes to an end. With each passing year and each playoff collapse, however, it’s curious why the Dodg
ers don’t do something extraordinary to push the club over the top.
Signing Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg to anchor their rotation for the better part of the 2020s would have qualified. If the Dodgers wanted a more affordable option —which is something one of the richest franchises in baseball should never worry about— then signing Bumgarner would have helped too.
The Dodgers dominate the regular season and fall apart in the playoffs, so who better to fix that problem than a man who has built a legacy as one of the best postseason pitchers of his generation?
There’s still time for the Dodgers to trade for Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor or sign free-agent slugger Josh Donaldson, but doing so would likely require a disciplined front office led by Andrew Friedman to make an uncharacteristic gamble.
All too often, it’s the biggest, boldest bets that scare contenders away from pushing in their chips.
Various computer projections, analytics and sabermetrics suggest that over the next five seasons, Bumgarner probably isn’t the pitcher a team wants taking the ball in a Game 7. But sometimes, it’s okay to look beyond the projections.
It’s okay to allow emotion to influence a decision or two, even if a pitcher’s diminishing fastball velocity suggests otherwise. It’s okay to show the fans you hear them, even if it takes paying a player who might be past his prime $20 million a year for the next five years.
Regardless of how Bumgarner performs over the next five years, Zaidi’s reputation and perception within the fan base will hinge on how quickly he can deliver a winner. All the emotions the fan base is feeling are only temporary if the Giants can soon look like a threat again.
Madison Bumgarner signing with Arizona is another punch to the gut of Giants’ fans.
Former Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws against the Oakland Athletics during a game last season.