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Should the Giants trade Madison Bumgarner?

It’s McCovey Chronicles Roundtable #8, and it couldn’t have come at a later date.

San Francisco Giants v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

No other McCovey Chronicles round table has been so urgent. We might be in the final weeks of Madison Bumgarner’s presence on the Giants’ roster, and although his place in franchise history is secure, the staff got together to discuss the bigger issue: should the Giants actually trade their franchise icon?

The Athletic’s Brady Klopfer

I don’t want to appeal to authority, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m excited about Farhan Zaidi. I have faith in Farhan Zaidi. The Giants hired Farhan Zaidi for a reason, and for the first time in a long time, that reason seems to be a good one. When it comes to matters that tilt the organizational philosophy, he has my nearly-blind support, at least for the first year or so.

The Giants are in a weird position. They have too much money and too few trade assets to hit the rebuild button. Yet they have too little talent and too weak a farm to think seriously about winning. As such, they occupy a weird middle ground on the team building spectrum. For most teams, trading a good player on a good contract is an easy choice: “We suck, get value, ship him, duh”, or “We’re good, he’s good, he stays, duh”. But the Giants don’t fall into either category.

So I’m taking the cop out answer. I approve of whatever Zaidi opts for, because I think there are numerous reasons to both trade Bumgarner, and to hold on to him. And without knowing what the trade market looks like in the GM circles, I can’t commit to either side.

Kevin Cunningham, Contributor

No. Because we’re in the most complicated moment of recent Giants history, and we don’t need to complicate it more.

Hear me out on this.

Yes, the team is lacking talent at many positions, and the farm system is not set to rebuild right now. Two of the Giants’ top three prospects are at least 3 years away (Heliot Ramos, Marco Luciano), and have a lot of risk built in. And yes, the team should be looking at a serious rebuild, starting with the farm system.

Trading Bumgarner won’t help significantly, however.

You can read this article, but here’s the TL:DR:

  1. Bumgarner has one year left on his deal; the short-term value will reduce his trade return.
  2. Bumgarner has not pitched well the last two years, when healthy.
  3. I have to add the addendum ‘when healthy’, even though the injuries were either self-inflicted or flukes.

That article makes a great point that the Giants return on Bumgarner would likely be similar to what the Giants traded away to get Andrew McCutchen. Which wasn’t nothing, but certainly isn’t going to fix a farm system.

But that’s only part of the reason. Lately, if you’ve been reading the news and the Giants have been in it, it’s been because of Charles Johnson, his donations, and groups proposing a boycott of the Giants. Regardless of your personal feelings about this situation, no one can deny this is a difficult time for the team, and they would be most vulnerable to any boycotts while the team is at its worst, which it is.

One of the undercurrents of the current statistical revolution is to ignore emotion and history in making moves. And logically, that’s correct. But a fan’s connection to a team, and to favorite players, can not be denied. If our new President of Baseball Operations comes in and one of his first moves is to trade one of the best World Series pitchers of all time, it’s just one more reason for those moderate fans, the fans we don’t see during slumps, to turn away. You, the hardcore fan, might say “Good Riddance,” but you know and I know the team wouldn’t want to, and truly can’t.

Not trading Bumgarner now is not giving up, however. A good half-season can undo a couple of those points mentioned above, and mid-season trades are prone to prices going up astronomically and teams willing to pay them, when they know their World Series chances are real. Sure, waiting is a risk...but all of baseball is a risk.

Risk waiting on the outcome. But don’t risk alienating the fans in this moment.

Sami Higgins, Deputy Editor

I don’t know that the Giants should trade Bumgarner now. He’s coming off a partial season where he didn’t seem like himself. I think if they really want to roll the dice and risk the fan ire, they should wait to see how he does next year and if they aren’t looking competitive by July, start shopping him around the deadline. His postseason lore should help motivate some competitive teams to offer a better return than they would get for him now.

Carmen Kiew, Social Media Manager

I don’t think I’m going to hold the popular opinion here but I do think the Giants should trade Madison Bumgarner (ducks from people chucking tomatoes at me).

Bumgarner is one of the most dominant pitchers I’ve had the pleasure of watching - we’ve all seen his phenomenal postseason performances and I’m a little shocked that he hasn’t even really come that close to a no-hitter. He’s no doubt an ace and hey, I don’t hate watching him wield a bat now and again either. He’s an elite baseball player.

That being said, I see Bumgarner as the only real bargaining chip the Giants have to improve the team. Unless you want to see more of the same and just a few Denard Spans being added, you’re going to have to give something significant up and the options are limited. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford have full no-trade clauses. Joe Panik has had a very down year. Brandon Belt has a limited no-trade clause and is four concussions deep. Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are a question marks as they recover from surgeries/injuries. Mark Melancon and Evan Longoria are both tied to huge contracts and have not performed up to expectations. You see where I’m going with this, right?

With only one year left on his contract and the possibility that Madison Bumgarner may walk away from the Giants at the end of next season ANYWAY, I actually believe the smart thing to do is to see what you can get in return while there’s still demand and opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.

That being said, I haven’t quite figured out WHEN the iron will be hot. Is it during winter meetings? Is it at the trade deadline? I’m not sure what will bring in the biggest haul, but I think a trade should absolutely go down.

I’m sorry. I don’t like it either. But I think it needs to happen.

Bryan Murphy, Managing Editor

There’s probably a 75% chance that Farhan trades Bumgarner before the end of the calendar year and a 100% chance the Giants will be a worse team heading into 2019 because of the move. I think the team might be worse off for more than a couple of years, too, because of the move; this one’s got legs.

I wasn’t prepared for the blow back on social media to the entire idea of moving Bumgarner, to the point that a lot of what I read inspired this particular bat signal for an emergency staff roundtable. Had I missed something in the run-up to the news that the Giants were open to engaging in trade talks? It seemed like a no-brainer. But most baseball fans are not baseball analytics fans and are generally down on the idea of improving a team by trading away favorite players with long track records of success in order to setup future success. Can’t they just use their prospects and money to acquire better players?

This is the point that’s started swirling around in my head lately. Cleveland has the AL Central in hand for the next couple of years, but instead they’re taking a step back and pairing down payroll. The Diamondbacks were in first place on September 1st and now they’re taking a step back and pairing down payroll. The Mariners are taking a step back and pairing down payroll. These teams aren’t broke and they’ve had a degree of success, and yet maximizing cost per win has become more important and more granular than actually creating a winning product.

There’s a lot of management movement geared towards maximizing surplus value, and in the rush to impress every team’s Daddy Warbucks via a sexy spreadsheet, the front office fraternity behavior has caused me to stop and reconsider just what it is that I find fun about baseball. I don’t actually want to see a bunch of would-be hedge fund managers run a baseball team like a hedge fund.

If we boil human nature down to its perceptible essence — the violent urge to grab power and maintain control — then that “to be honest” conclusion seems inescapable. Powerful people love telling those beneath them what’s for their own good, and I think we’ll hear that in the aftermath of a Bumgarner deal. But humbly.

I don’t know if trading Bumgarner will automatically mean the team is tanking, though, and more importantly, I don’t see any reason for a team as wealthy as the Giants to tank. Never mind that they can’t move most of the contracts on the roster, they have the flexibility and financial wherewithal to add more. Whether those wind up being good or bad deals is up to the scouting and the players themselves, but I’d prefer to see the Giants... and, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this... win and develop.

Michael Baumann wrote about this very issue on The Ringer yesterday:

A disturbing trend has emerged this offseason: Mid-tier teams are joining the cellar dwellers in selling off coveted players. It’s definitely bad for players and probably bad for the sport, but it does create an avenue for ambitious teams to quickly turn into contenders. Will anyone try?

That was just the lede, but it’s compelling enough. Some might say, Well, the Giants aren’t going to win anything, so why not strip it for parts and see if you can make it better in 3-5 years? to which some might answer, Then why should I watch for 3-5 years? Why should I root for the suits? Why should anyone care about the Giants if they just decide they’re going to be bad for five years? And if everyone’s going to intentionally be bad for five years, then wouldn’t the market inefficiency become trying?

And on that note, I want the Giants to remake themselves, but I don’t want to see them burn it all down just because they feel it’s the only way. If Farhan Zaidi is really as clever and as smart as I think (and a lot of people think) he is, then a tank and tear down is not the only option available.

The Giants don’t have to trade Madison Bumgarner. He has more value to the team as a figurehead than he will for any other team as a rotation pitcher. He just wasn’t very good last season. Dammit, I want to see him blow the doors off the place to start 2019... and then they can trade him if it still makes sense. It makes some sense now and his value might never be higher, but for a team that’s taken huge PR hits over the past few years for being one of the worst-run franchises in professional sports (that’s a catch-all characterization based on team record and recent events), it doesn’t make a lot of sense from a morale standpoint. Morale is important.

If the next year is just going to be day after day of waking up to learn that your favorite player is gone and in his place is a platoon player who strikes out 140 times but can hit 15 home runs at AT&T Park, then I don’t see how the team itself and the six-month schedule has a lot of surplus value for our lives.

Kenneth Kelly, Staff Writer

I’m in the camp that if the Giants were to trade Bumgarner now, they wouldn’t get much in return. Bryan already laid out some compelling reasons following the James Paxton trade, and if you think that Bryan is a ding dong, Jeff Sullivan wrote a very similar piece over at FanGraphs. If the Giants can coax Milwaukee into giving up Corbin Burnes or the Phillies into sending back Adonis Medina, I’d say the Giants should do the hard thing and have Bum ride his horse into the sunset.

But a reasonable expectation for a return on Bumgarner might be more of a 40-45 future value pitching prospect, which is around the level of Andrew Suárez and Chris Stratton. That’s not a disastrous return, and if Bumgarner gets hurt or has a bad year, they may not even get that much if they wait until the deadline.

This isn’t to say that the Giants should trade Bumgarner. It’s just to say that if they do, I won’t curse Farhan Zaidi for being foolish and/or heartless.

However, there’s sense in keeping Bumgarner until the deadline or beyond. If he has a good year, his market shouldn’t go down terribly. His market might actually expand depending on who finds themselves in contention or with their ace on the disabled list. If the Giants can’t trade him at the deadline, they can always extend a qualifying offer and receive draft pick compensation.

Mostly, I don’t want the Giants to trade Bumgarner because I can’t let go of the good ole days. Bumgarner is the last pitcher standing of the Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner era. When Bumgarner goes, that’s it. We won’t even be able to pretend the Golden Age is still going. The Dark Age will be here.

(Unless they get Adonis Medina, and then everything will be fine.)