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The New York Yankees are an ace away from full-blown title contention. The San Francisco Giants need to launch a rebuild, and they employ Madison Bumgarner, one of the most decorated aces in postseason history.
Round peg, meet round hole.
The Yankees claimed the American League‘s top wild-card slot behind a potent bullpen and an offense that swatted an all-time single-season record 267 home runs. They took care of the upstart Oakland Athletics in the do-or-die AL Wild Card Game and advanced to a division series showdown against the Boston Red Sox.
Then the wheels came off. The Yanks lost, 3-1, to the Sox. No New York starting pitcher lasted more than five innings in the series, and other than Masahiro Tanaka, no starter lasted more than three.
The Yankees and everyone else knew starting pitching was a vulnerability. Boston exposed said vulnerability and left its archrivals in the dust.
New York’s No. 1 offseason priority? Improving the rotation and propping up ostensible ace Luis Severino, who showed flashes of excellence but looked woefully mortal in stretches. Behind him, it’s a mix of the decent, the unproven and the unknown.
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The Yankees could pursue Patrick Corbin, the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market. The left-hander tossed 200 innings and posted career bests in ERA (3.15) and strikeouts (246) for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That said, he’ll turn 30 next July and might be a payroll drag on the back end of a lucrative long-term contract, which he’s sure to command. Add the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2014 and his up-and-down career results, and he’s an intriguing but high-risk option.
Instead, the Yankees should train their sights on Bumgarner. He’d be a one-year rental. He’d also be eminently affordable and comes with a sparkling October resume.
A four-time All-Star who’s finished in the top 10 of National League Cy Young Award voting four times, Bumgarner has dominated in the regular season.
Once the postseason kicks in? Fuhgetaboutit.
In 102.1 playoff frames, Bumgarner owns a 2.11 ERA. He carried the Giants to the finish line in 2014, authored one of the most iconic Fall Classic pitching performances of all time and won World Series MVP honors.
He’s got the ice-water-in-his-veins persona. He’s got the results.
There are quibbles. Bumgarner missed significant time in 2018, though that was mostly due to a fractured pinkie suffered on a comebacker in spring training.
His velocity also declined to 91.4 mph from a career average of 92.3 mph and a career best of 93.0 mph. Then again, Bumgarner doesn’t need to be a blow-’em-away pitcher.
As Kenny Kelly of McCovey Chronicles illustrated, Bumgarner changed his approach in 2018, relying less on his heater and more on his breaking balls and offspeed pitches.
Despite starting the season late because of a freak spring injury and battling inevitable rust, Bumgarner posted a 3.26 ERA in 129.2 innings.
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Now, we arrive at possibly the brightest feather in Bumgarner’s trade-value cap: his price tag.
Assuming the Giants pick up his team option (a slam-dunk assumption), he’ll earn $12 million in 2019. Contrast that to the $25 million the Chicago Cubs paid Yu Darvish to post a 4.95 ERA and melt into an injury-riddled puddle in 2018. Never mind the money the Cubs will pay Darvish through 2023.
Signing an expensive ace is risky. So is trading top prospects, but a play for Bumgarner makes far more short-term sense for New York.
San Francisco fans will balk at a Bumgarner trade. Other than catcher Buster Posey, no player had a greater impact on the Giants’ trio of even-year championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Those days are over, however. San Francisco added veteran pieces last offseason in the hopes of squeezing one more run out of its aging core but finished 73-89, 18.5 games out in the NL West. They fired general manager Bobby Evans. A reshuffle in the front office should likewise mean a reshuffling of the roster.
“That would certainly be heavy in the equation, and I’m sure that would come up in the interview process,” executive Brian Sabean said of a theoretical Bumgarner swap while addressing the club’s GM search, per Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area.
No matter what, the Giants must bolster a farm system that ranked No. 24 in the game, per Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter.
Which brings us back to the Yankees. New York slipped from No. 3 in Reuter’s preseason farm-system rankings to No. 16 by the end of the 2018 MiLB season. Mostly, Reuter noted, that’s because blue-chip infielders Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar graduated to the show.
The Yankees have chips remaining, however. Left-hander Justus Sheffield is MLB-ready and would be a high-end ask for San Francisco. A deeper package featuring toolsy outfielder Estevan Florial and right-handers Albert Abreu and Domingo Acevedo might pique the Giants’ interest.
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In April, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney speculated on the possibility of a Bumgarner blockbuster.
“The left-hander would become the most coveted trade target in baseball—maybe one of the most sought-after summer market pieces in baseball history—if the Giants ever auctioned him off, and he would probably glean at least two high-end prospects for an organization thin on minor-league talent,” Olney opined.
It’ll take a bushel of young talent for the Yankees to net MadBum. It’ll take a lot of fan-displeasing fortitude for the Giants to let him go with an eye on the future.
Round peg, meet round hole.