The San Francisco Giants are rumored to be putting left-hander Madison Bumgarner on the trading block. Should the Boston Red Sox consider a deal?
Frontline starting pitching may not be a top priority for the Boston Red Sox but that doesn’t mean they won’t be intrigued by the availability of Madison Bumgarner.
According to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, the San Francisco Giants are “willing to engage” in trade discussions for their ace. While the Red Sox aren’t specifically mentioned as a team that has checked in on Bumgarner, we can never rule out the concept of Dave Dombrowski making a bold move.
Boston also has an opening in their rotation if free agent Nathan Eovaldi isn’t re-signed. Bumgarner offers an enticing alternative if the Red Sox pivot away from the bidding war for the 2018 postseason hero.
Bumgarner has his own history of shining in the October spotlight. The 2014 World Series MVP allowed a mere six earned runs over 52 2/3 innings during San Francisco’s championship run that season. His brilliant postseason that year was perhaps the most dominant we’ve seen on that stage in recent memory. Bumgarner is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA over 16 career postseason appearances.
The four-time All-Star is no slouch in the regular season either with a career 3.03 ERA and four top-10 finishes on the NL Cy Young ballot.
As difficult as it would be for the Giants to let Bumgarner go considering what he’s meant to that city, a revamped front office led by Farhan Zaidi has no sentimental ties to the 10-year veteran. Bumgarner has one year remaining on his deal for a very reasonable $12 million. If the rebuilding Giants don’t intend to sign him to a long-term deal next year, now is the time to trade him.
Bumgarner is a big name with a stellar track record but he’s not without risk. Injuries have limited him to a combined 38 starts over the last two seasons following six consecutive years with 31+ starts and 200+ innings.
The 29-year old has seen a dip in velocity after topping out with an average fastball of 93 mph in 2016. Bumgarner has averaged a career-low 91.4 mph on his fastball over the last two seasons. He was never an overpowering flame-thrower who needed to rely on velocity but this decline may be partially responsible for a dropoff in strikeouts. Bumgarner has struck out close to a batter per inning throughout his career but saw his strikeout rate fall to 7.6 K/9 this season while his walk rate ballooned to 3.0 BB/9. The result was a career low 2.53 K/BB ratio.
His swinging-strike fell to 9.2% and he allowed a career-high 41.6% hard-hit rate, per FanGraphs. These are troubling trends for a pitcher who not long ago was considered elite in these categories. Bumgarner still sported a solid 3.26 ERA this season but these declines in other metrics explain his career-high 3.99 FIP.
He’s not quite the same pitcher he was at his peak, which makes us wonder how this current version of Bumgarner would fair leaving pitcher-friendly AT&T Park for Fenway Park in the heavy-hitting American League.
Even in his current state, Bumgarner can still be an asset to a Red Sox rotation that won’t need to rely on him to carry the staff. His declining stats, injury history and proximity to free agency make Bumgarner more attainable than ever before. Morosi’s report indicates the Giants will ask for at least one high-end pitching prospect but that doesn’t mean anyone is willing to meet that asking price. It shouldn’t take a top-tier prospect to acquire Bumgarner, which puts Boston in the mix despite a relatively thin farm system.
The recent decline is a bit concerning but the Red Sox should bank on a healthy Bumgarner’s track record and the one-year commitment limits the risk. His bargain contract is an appealing alternative to shelling out a lucrative long-term deal to Eovaldi. Bumgarner’s free agency lines up with Chris Sale and Rick Porcello hitting the market, offering the Red Sox plenty of flexibility with building their rotation for the years ahead.
The price tag may prove to be too high for a one-year rental if several other teams get involved in the bidding but it makes sense for the Red Sox to at least kick the tires on a Bumgarner trade.