If you bit into the delicious news of Gerrit Cole signing a mega-deal with the Yankees, you quickly found that beneath the sweet frosting was uncooked hot dog meat in the form of the latest bombshell Winter Meetings rumor:
#Dodgers will now shift their focus to free-agent left-hander Madison Bumgarner, sources tell The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2019
That’s highly respected insider Ken Rosenthal and not parody troll account Ken Rosenthai revealing a stomach turning bit of baseball news for Giants fans.
Yes, the Giants don’t seem too motivated to re-sign Bumgarner. Yes, the market for Bumgarner might be higher than where the Giants would like to go even if they are in. But, come on. The Dodgers? It’s the Dodgers. The actual goddamn Dodgers. This can’t happen, right? It shouldn’t happen.
On the other hand, Rosenthal dropped this right after the Cole news, which he did not break. Maybe he was confirming this info with a source and was distracted from being first on Cole or maybe something else happened. Possibilities:
- Bumgarner’s people leaked this after the Dodgers lost out on Cole.
- There’s some weird sourcing confusion and it’s the Angels, not the Dodgers who are interested.
- The Dodgers, having been outbid on Gerrit Cole, leaked this in a fit of pique to ruin what had been a nice day for the Giants.
- Farhan Zaidi was bored and wanted a little chaos before bed so he leaked it through an intermediary.
I’m not deluding myself into thinking the rumor has no basis in reality, I’m merely considering other situations to avoid the painful truth of the matter: it makes sense.
Bumgarner presents a surer bet to remain healthy over Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is definitely better than Bumgarner, but isn’t as durable. But Bumgarner’s durability can make up for the loss of Ryu and Rich Hill’s innings, compensate for the innings limits on Clayton Kershaw and their younger pitchers as well as potential ineffectiveness by Maeda (4.04 ERA in ~153 IP; 37 games, 26 starts last year).
Outside of Oracle Park, he’s started more games at Dodger Stadium (21) than anywhere else, and has a 2.67 ERA and 5.25 K/BB. He’s also allowed just 1.24 HR/9. In a lot of ways, he has been just as good at Dodger Stadium than at Oracle. He’s also been good against good teams. The postseason resume, too, is well known by all. Not having to actually face Max Muncy can only help him, too.
On the other hand, this still looks like a troll job.
Analytically, there’s nothing the saber crowd can truly defend in their blind caping for the Dodgers’ algorithm. Bumgarner had one of the worst hard hit rates in baseball last year. He gives up a lot of home runs in general (30 last year). His 2019 FIP (3.90) puts him between Kenta Maeda and Clayton Kershaw, but his 107 ERA+ puts him just ahead of Maeda (who lost his rotation spot late in the year) for worst on the Dodgers’ staff.
Bumgarner appears to want a deal approaching Zack Wheeler’s 5-year/118 million contract. The Dodgers don’t do those kinds of deals. They’re more likely to offer something like two years and $60 million or three years and $74 million. A five-year commitment to a pitcher who has already thrown nearly 2,000 innings between the regular season and postseason doesn’t follow their m.o. since Andrew Friedman took over. Also, they’d have to give the Giants a draft pick because of the qualifying offer.
There’s always the possibility that this technologically advanced and Merovingian-like front office sees long-term sustainability in Bumgarner’s stuff, mechanics, and pitch selection, but isn’t it the most logical and smartest explanation simply that the Dodgers want to put their rivals in a tough spot by driving up the cost of their franchise icon?
Farhan Zaidi spoke to season ticket holders last week, and while clearly trolling them by invoking the Dodgers thirty times in ten seconds, he also revealed that keeping franchise icons would play directly into the Dodgers’ hands (subscription required):
Later, Zaidi, in addressing the Pillar move, encouraged fans to think the way their rivals might, asking them to put themselves in Dodger blue shoes for a moment. “If you said to the Dodgers, what do you want the Giants to do?”
“If you said to the Dodgers: Do you want the Giants to take chances with young players and have the chance to really build something? Or do you want them to go with a veteran group and just play that game? What would you rather do?” Zaidi posited.
He answered that one himself, too, saying that the Dodgers would prefer that the Giants keep treading water with a veteran squad “because, frankly, they feel like they have a better group. And as long as we’re trying to play catch-up like that with veteran players, we’re not going to get there.”
So, yeah, let’s consider the possibility that some very smart people are playing nine-dimensional chess here. Not for the sake of the country or anything like that, but simply to fluster a competitor’s rebuilding efforts. But since I understand poker a little bit better than chess, let me switch metaphors: this has to be a bluff, right? Friedman holds all the cards but he still wants to juice the pot a little more if he can.
Bumgarner to the Dodgers would be a seismic shift. In one respect, they’d be helping their rival get into the rebuild deeper and faster while setting themselves up for a Schmidtian-level bomb of a contract. Still, in another, simpler respect: Madison Bumgarner would be a Dodger.
Do you want the Giants to take the bait?