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The two Bumgarner trade rumors

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The Twins are said to be in, the Yankees have made a move to suggest they could be in — which is right? Does it matter?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, Minnesota reporter Darren Wolfson of Channel 5 KTSP Eyewitness News responded to a segment of sports columnist Charley Walters’ latest column:

So, the Twins are interested, but nothing’s close seems to be the very least that’s happening here, according to the Minnesota press. If we think of Charley Walters as their Henry Schulman and Darren Wolfson as their Sal Castaneda, then this would at least resolve the matter as to whether or not there’s any oxygen to this rumor.

The Twins are definitely interested in Madison Bumgarner. We know the Giants are open to trading him. We can assume the Giants probably will trade him, and the idea that there’s now a non-Yankees team with rumored interest suggests that there’s at least one or two more other teams interested in the Giants’ ace.

Adding more intrigue to this Twins rumor is that the Twins, like every other playoff team, could use some bullpen help. Maybe teams aren’t keen to give up much for Madison Bumgarner (more on that in a second), but Bumgarner and a reliever might actually convince teams to trade the Giants some useful pieces.

Meanwhile, the Yankees just demoted Clint Frazier in a both headscratching and “must be nice” situation. Frazier is a bad defensive outfielder, but in just 204 plate appearances posted a wRC+ of 122, good for 69th in baseball. It means he’s been 22% better than the league average, and if you look at who else is in the neighborhood of 122 wRC+ you can’t help but be impressed: Gleyber Torres (124), Andrew McCutchen, Ketel Marte, Ronald Acuna Jr. (all 123), Domingo Santana (122), Corey Seager & Alex Verdugo (120).

The Yankees could afford to ditch Frazier because of yesterday’s trade for 36-year old Edwin Encarnacion. Also complicating matters: he really hates the New York media:

The 24-year-old prospect made headlines before Tuesday’s game by telling the assembled media he didn’t owe anyone an apology for not speaking with reporters after Sunday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox -- a game in which he notably misplayed three fly balls in right field. But things got even testier after New York’s 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, according to NJ.com, with Frazier taking two questions and then leaving the clubhouse after “a few seconds of awkward silence” and a seconds-long glare at Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.

”I’m done here,” Frazier said, per the report. “They’re not asking me anything.”

The outfielder’s quick exit, which came the same day New York tabloids suggested he’s “killing his trade value in Yankees’ agony,” was just the latest in a growing list of controversial exchanges between Big Apple media and the former Cleveland Indiansdraft pick. While Frazier has flashed success at the plate in 2019, logging a career-best 11 home runs and 30 RBI through 42 games, he’s arguably made more headlines for his fielding blunders and run-ins with reporters.

But unlike the Twins rumor, there’s nothing here beyond a transaction, the Yankees’ obvious needs for rotation and bullpen help, and the New York media’s desire to see him shipped out of town for players more “Yankees-like”.

Frazier doesn’t turn 25 until September and has a career minor league OPS of .821 with a 10.5% career walk rate. It’s been 6.5% in 387 major league plate appearances with a nearly 30% strikeout rate, which puts him in Steven Duggar territory (in both cases of minors and majors) but without the defense. What do I mean by bad on defense? He has a -7 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield this season and a -12 combined for his career. A reminder:

Total Defensive Runs Saved indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position.

On the other hand, the chance to acquire a 24-year outfielder with pop and who doesn’t hit arbitration until 2021 is really attractive. He’s a Georgia boy, too, so maybe getting him in the same clubhouse as Buster Posey and in front of the softest media market in world history might be a positive change of scene.

But Yankees fans think Frazier is too much to give up for Bumgarner, and Twins fans think Madison Bumgarner is “washed”. They might be right, to a degree.

Bumgarner’s hard hit rate is at 43.6% right now, meaning that 43.6% of the contact against his pitches is hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more. The league average for this rate is 34.3%. For his career, Bumgarner is at 33.5%. This more powerful contact rate has translated into the largest “Barrel” rate of his career. A reminder on Barrels:

To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.

His 9.4% barrel rate this year is well above his career average of 7% and that rate has been on a steady increase since 2015: 4.8%, 6.8%, 8.0%, 8.4%, 9.4%. The average exit velocity against his pitches is 89.7 mph, 2 mph greater than his career average and 2.3 mph greater than the league average. We’re in dangerous territory with Bumgarner and every other team out there can see these same underlying numbers and more.

Bumgarner would be the fifth-best pitcher in the Twins’ rotation just based on FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). By that measure, he’d be the second-best starter in the Yankees’ rotation (just behind James Paxton). But for both teams, he’d bring experience and name brand recognition and signal the fan base that the team has made moves with a deep postseason run in mind.

Bumgarner and Dyson or Bumgarner and Gott as a trade pair might also be enough for either team to kill two birds with one stone and give up the bare minimum of prospects to get the job done.

From a fan standpoint, yes of course every single prospect is better than any other player on another team, but from a practical standpoint, the Twins and the Yankees (and who knows how many other teams) are looking for safety and insurance as they head into the postseason. There are no guarantees, of course, so they’ll need to do the best they can.

Modern baseball seems stuck on the idea that a team shouldn’t “mortgage its future” for any reason, ignoring the fact that you can’t get something for nothing. Home owners who want insurance in a flood zone aren’t going to get cheaper insurance than homes out of a flood zone and if the Yankees and Twins really want to upgrade their pitching staffs and think Bumgarner and/or a Giants reliever can help do that, then they’ll have to give up something.

If you, Yankee or Twin fan, want to argue that it’s actually price gouging to ask for a top 25 prospect for Madison Bumgarner or Bumgarner plus a reliever, then you are admitting that your teams are facing imminent emergencies, as gouging only applies to critical situations. Both teams are in first place. The insurance rate metaphor is much more appropriate.

The Giants won’t get a top 15 prospect for Bumgarner or even Bumgarner plus a reliever (unless that reliever is Will Smith — which is a whole separate argument and worthy of a whole other post), but they’re not just going to get a fart in the mouth, either. Less than a week ago, I imagined the Giants would get exactly that, but then the Yankees decided to trade for 36-year old Edwin Encarnacion and the Twins were suddenly rumored to still have interest, so I’m amending my expectations a little bit.

The Yankees have been far more willing to trade prospects they didn’t draft (Frazier was Cleveland’s first-round draft pick in 2013) and the Twins’ system won’t miss a top 25 arm and maybe a couple of lottery tickets elsewhere in their system, and even if none of us know what the Giants are looking for in a trade, it’s safe to say that there’s a solid deal out there to be made.