Jon Heyman talked to Madison Bumgarner recently about the possibility of a new contract, as well as his thoughts on the original, bargain contract. There were no updates on the new contract (the Giants still have him under team control for 2018 and 2019 if they want), but there were new words about how Bumgarner feels about his current contract:
When asked whether he regrets such a long deal at such an early stage, Bumgarner says, without hesitation, “No, absolutely not. I wasn’t going to do it if there was a chance I was going to regret it. I spent a lot of time with my wife talking about just that.” He knew the team was taking a risk, too. “You see so many times where guys think they’ll be great and have long careers, and they have an injury and never come back from it.”
On one hand, you knew that Bumgarner wasn’t pouting. He might yell! He might complain about baseball things, like a call that he doesn’t get, or a bat that is tossed to high instead of gently laid down on the grass like a faberge egg, but he doesn’t pout.
On the other hand, you know he gets asked this question all the time, and that last sentence is a clear, obvious point that you don’t hear a lot of players acknowledge. It has to be terrifying for a player to stare into the abyss like that, even if it’s completely true.
So let’s briefly recap the timeline of Bumgarner’s extension:
2007: Bumgarner is drafted out of high school
2008: He dominates the South Atlantic League, with one of the best statistical performances you can possibly expect from an 18-year-old pitching prospect.
2009: He does fine in Double-A, even making a spot start in the majors for Tim Lincecum, but his strikeouts are down. Way down. Late in the season, he’s the subject of articles like this:
Madison Bumgarner's midseason drop in velocity has been puzzling. Even to Bumgarner.
"I wish I knew," Bumgarner said. "The ball feels like it's coming out the same."
The headline of that article was “What's wrong with Bumgarner?”
2010: Nothing is better when spring training arrives. As usual, I gracefully took this news in stride.
I’m trying to think of a happy ending to the Bumgarner-lost-his-velocity story, but I really can’t. Not in the short-term, at least. Maybe Beau Mills is still available.
“Other than, say, him getting the velocity back and helping the Giants win their first World Series since moving to San Francisco, there is almost no way this ends well.”
Because it’s ambiguous, though, I really do need to point out the Beau Mills part was a goof. He had already shed his prospect sheen by that point. IT WAS A GOOF.
Anyway, the important part is that Bumgarner started the season with a limp fastball, and he was pummeled in spring training, and he got better. He entered camp as the favorite to be the fifth starter, and he lost his spot to Todd Wellemeyer. Even though it ended with a parade, he now knows what it’s like to sit in a dark room and silently wonder if his body betrayed him before his career could even get started.
2011: Bumgarner finishes 11th in the NL Cy Young voting, but there were still ups and downs on the way. He finished April with a 6.17 ERA, and June is when the infamous Twins game happened.
Still, he finishes the season exceptionally, with a 2.18 ERA in 11 starts in August and September. He’s trending up.
2012: Bumgarner signs an extension in April. It looks like a team-friendly deal, but it’s not like the headlines were shouting, “BUMGARNER ROBBED” or “SELIG TO INVESTIGATE BUMGARNER DEAL.” The Giants still took a risk.
Note that the other time the Giants signed a young left-hander proactively like this was with Noah Lowry in 2006. The team wasn’t exactly hamstrung by the deal, but they paid him $4.5 million to not pitch in 2008.
(An aside, this is part of a Brian Sabean quote in response to the Lowry deal:
The best thing I can say about him as a general manager, he's a baseball player who pitches
So while I was happy as a Giants fan when the deal was announced, and it looked like a smart investment, there was almost no way to predict just how much of a steal it would become. It’s why Chris Sale turned to the White Sox and said, gimme one of those.
And do you remember what happened at the end of 2012? Madison Bumgarner was so out of gas that he lost his postseason rotation spot to Barry Zito. The Giants literally went with Zito over Bumgarner in the NLCS on purpose, and most of us were completely understanding about the decision. If you asked Bumgarner if the extension was a mistake at that moment, he either would have laughed or convulsed in terror. Before that Game 2 performance against the Tigers, those dark, unspoken thoughts must have been coming around at night again.
2013 - 2016: Bumgarner is a large pitcher who eats hitters and spits out the bones on the side of the road as a warning to other hitters.
The contract, in retrospect, was a mistake for Bumgarner. He could have earned at least $100 million more already, and he might have been baseball’s first $300 million free agent this year. In retrospect, I should have purchased Apple stock a few months after they released the Newton.
As is, Bumgarner is still a millionaire, and at least his contract has allowed the Giants to sign players like Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, as well as keep Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt around. He should be ribbing all of those guys for stealing his money, because that would be technically accurate.
Should he be upset? Nah. And he knows it. Exploring the context of how he was perceived in the years leading up to the extension is important. There were more mysteries and worries than you might remember.