A month and a half ago, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association agreed to some new rule changes over the next couple of years. One of the first to become effective this season was the end of August trade waivers.
The thinking there was that it will make the July 31st trade deadline more exciting and force teams to decide if they’re in or out faster than ever before. From the Players’ Union side, it sure seems like it’d mean more player movement to get players off of bad teams and onto good ones as well as a lot more player movement during the offseason; but, if we’re using our thinking caps here, taking away front offices’ collective flexibility seems to make the players’ lives more difficult. After all, management has to regain control somewhere else.
Every division race save the AL East features three teams within 2.5 games of first place. We’re only a month into the season, so let’s revisit this when June begins, but for now, there are plenty of teams still in it. Obviously, that could change very quickly, and if it does, I suspect we’ll see more teams switch to tank mode sooner. Just think of the extra profits teams gain by shedding payroll in late May/early June instead of late July.
Aha! That’s great! That means the Giants will move Bumgarner and the others before the All-Star Break, guaranteeing Steven Duggar will be the team’s sole representative!
Sure, but if we are to see teams tank faster — really, just decide in May that they’re not in it and go Full DiPoto — then we’re going to see a buyers’ market, one comprised of maybe 4-5 teams at most, because there isn’t unlimited roster space, prospect inventory, and financial wherewithal for teams to add every good player available.
But Madison Bumgarner is Madison Bumgarner, and there will be a market for him.
The Brewers traded for Gio Gonzalez last August, and this is the deal I want to focus on because I think that’s a deal that sort of represents the ceiling for a potential Madison Bumgarner trade, assuming Bumgarner doesn’t return to 2016 form. On the other hand, just to show you how weird baseball stats are:
Through a grand total of five starts this year, Bumgarner has 30 strikeouts and 5 walks in 32 innings pitched. That’s a 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio. The last time he had that was in 2015.
YES I KNOW IT’S JUST FIVE STARTS. BEAR WITH ME.
Bumgarner’s WHIP is 0.969, walks per 9 is 1.4 and strikeouts per 9 is 8.4. In 2015, over a full season of course, those were 1.008, 1.6, and 9.6. The strikeouts per 9 jumps out at you, of course, as does the fact that he did all that in 218 innings and here I am using 32 innings.
My point is, you can look at some of those numbers and think that Bumgarner is fine. A real ace again. But then you look at stuff like his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which is at 3.93. His career FIP is 3.26 and his FIP last season in 129.2 IP was 3.99. In 2015, it was 2.87.
And then there’s the whole thing about the 3 mph lost on his fastball and taken together you can see why this Gio Gonzalez deal might be the type the Giants could shoot for.
Like Gonzalez last year, Bumgarner will make $12 million this year. Gonzalez actually cleared trade waivers and was free to be dealt to any team — remember, if a player is placed on August waivers, if he goes unclaimed after a couple of days, then the team can do this; otherwise, they must negotiate a trade with a claiming team, pull the player back from waivers, or just give the player and his whole contract over to the claiming team — and the Brewers wound up being the only team willing to take him on as part of their late push.
Up to the point of the deal on August 31st, Gonzalez’s line with the Nationals looked like this:
153 H (1.53 WHIP)
70 BB (10.8% BB rate)
126 K (19.5% K rate)
The Brewers then benched him for an entire week to sort out whatever command/control issues they spotted and for the rest of the season, he was limited to fewer than 100 pitches and pitched a total of 25.1 innings (5 starts). He then “started” two games in the NLCS and pitched a total of three innings.
Obviously, any team looking to acquire Bumgarner would be doing it for the postseason cache. If nothing else, it’d be a way to drum up fan excitement, even if the trading team planned to use Bumgarner in a single inning or low pitch count capacity a la Gonzalez. So, automatically, he has more value than Gio Gonzalez, even if the contract statuses in this comparison are the same. And Bumgarner last year was still much better than Gonzalez:
118 H (1.24 WHIP)
43 BB (7.8% BB rate)
109 K (19.8% K rate)
The Nationals received two position players: a 20-year old catcher/DH who was the Brewers’ third round draft pick in 2017 and a 21-year old third baseman who was an international signing in 2014. Neither of them made it onto MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 for the Nationals. They gave up Gonzalez and $250,000 in bonus money to get them.
The Nationals did well in their return, but Farhan Zaidi is going to be under pressure to get something better, and for good reason — when a team’s success window has snapped shut, trading one of the few remaining talented players who still draws a crowd is going to be tough, absent a compelling reason.
Without that extra month before playoff teams or teams on the edge of playoff contention really have to place their bets on October, risk aversion increases, not decreases. If this year’s rules were in place this last August, are the Brewers desperate enough to make that move in July?
If the lack of waiver trades leads to an influx of tanking teams before July 31st, then the Giants are hosed. Teams that decide to tank will be desperate to clear their books while the Giants, who have plenty of money, will be looking for talent.
The quickest way to get better would seem to be through trades, but I promise you there comes a point when the return could be so low that a trade would not be worth it. Trading for another team’s Mac Williamson or even getting involved in a three way that lands the Giants Connor Joe again doesn’t seem worth it, but without that extra month of trade possibilities we’re in a whole new world of discovery. No team wants to “lose” in a trade, bu the Giants might find it very tough to win one this year.