Lessons to take from Bum­gar­ner’s free agency

Giants, Dodgers can’t be scared of big bets

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Kerry Crow­ley

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.

PHOTOS BY NHAT V. MEYER — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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.

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