Over at MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes has an article exploring a possible contract extension for Madison Bumgarner. The tweet linking to the article was quickly followed with one from Hank Schulman:
Brass has said they don't like extensions for 1+ guys
Translation: The Giants don't like to give out long-term deals for players who are already tethered to the Giants for the next five years. And while there was some good ol' hand-wringing about Matt Cain, Pending Free Agent yesterday, the Giants will have Madison Bumgarner through 2016. They'll have him for Manny Burriss prices for 2012. If he performs as expected, he'll likely become a Super Two, which is a normal two that gets power from a differently colored sun. He'll start to get expensive, but the Giants will still hold his rights for the next five years.
At the risk of being one of those dinks who quotes himself, check out this awesome quote from me that I wrote before the 2010 season about Tim Lincecum:
When it comes to a pitcher – any pitcher, even if he’s the best in the game – I’d rather have him on a 4/$90M contract than a 6/$110M contract. If Lincecum and his agent successfully navigate the young pitcher gauntlet all the way to free agency, more power to them. They made it past the final round without any lifelines left, even when the last two questions were about opera and taxonomy.
This comes up now for a couple of reasons:
1. I still think this applies, and I'd use the same strategy for Bumgarner. Don't extend him until you have to because pitchers are risky investments
2. As Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain approach free agency, my preferred strategy sure looks stupid
Young pitchers are risky, water is wet, and mayonnaise is scummy egg paste. You know all this. But the Giants have nurtured three first-round pitchers to the majors over the past few years. Two of them have already had extended success while staying healthy. Maybe that's the equivalent of them rolling a pair of sixes twice. Or maybe it's because the Giants are particularly good at developing pitchers and keeping them healthy.
If that's the case, they should absolutely lock up Madison Bumgarner for years and years and years. Problem is, I doubt even the Giants are sure of exactly how much of Cain and Lincecum's success and (relative) longevity is nature and how much is nurture. The eternal debate, it is. As such, I'd rather play it safe with Bumgarner. You might think that playing it safe is locking him up at a cost that's potentially below market. I say safe is keeping any pitcher on a long-term, non-guaranteed contract in the event that he turns into Ryan Vogelsong (reserving the right to reacquire him next decade if he double-turns into Ryan Vogelsong.)
The most important point in all this: The Giants have Madison Bumgarner for the next five years. Neener neener neener. To emphasize this excitement, allow me to cherry-pick some numbers without adjusting for era, and look at all of the pitchers in major-league history with a K/BB ratio over 3.00 before they turned 22.
oh man so pretty that is so awesome oh man
Worth noting: A six-year deal after their age-21 seasons would have worked out for Blyleven and Felix, and it would have been a decidedly mixed bag for Gooden, Saberhagen, and Blue. It wouldn't have been an abject disaster in any of those cases.
So as the years progress, and Madison Bumgarner remains awesome, I'm not going to regret the Giants not locking him up. I'll just use the awesome for all sorts of things -- cologne, sandwich topping, voicemail greeting. It'll be versatile stuff, this awesome. But I still think the Giants would be right to err on the side of caution, even though they're getting close to getting burned by that strategy.