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Imagining Madison Bumgarner’s next contract

He’ll always be more valuable to the Giants than any other team.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Now that the Giants are far enough out of the playoff picture that suspending disbelief is no longer an option, we can start looking to next year. Bruce Bochy will be gone, and most of the regulars will most likely not be penciled in as such for 2020. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Giants seek upgrades for shortstop, second base, and first base and opt out of paying a 31-year old Kevin Pillar $7+ million in arbitration. Yastrzemski and Dickerson might be nice to have around, but their nice seasons might not be repeatable.

And then there’s the matter of the bullpen, with Will Smith’s expiring deal and the possibility that Tony Watson’s utility has vanished or might be better suited on another team. Considering all that, the rotation actually looks like something that might be trending upwards, if Johnny Cueto can regain some of his form and Jeff Samardzija can continue doing what he’s done this year. All the Giants might be missing there is “an ace”, or at least a stabilizing presence to get them through the second half of their rebuild era.

Yesterday, Henry Schulman of the Chronicle was on KNBR and dropped this note about the Giants and a possible extension for Madison Bumgarner:

“I would suspect — though nobody has told me this — that they will try and give him a similar extension that [the Dodgers] gave Clayton Kershaw… It was a very short extension. It was maybe three years and about $100 million dollars. I think that’s probably the direction they would go. The Giants are not going to be giving a six year offer to a 30-year-old Madison Bumgarner. I don’t see it happening, that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.”

This would make a lot of sense. The 2020 team might be mostly unknowable at this point, but heading into the offseason knowing the rotation has Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija would be a nice start. Madison Bumgarner might be looking for a payday of sorts in free agency, but with the way that system has been revamped, his best chance for the most money might just come from the Giants, especially if they make him a qualifying offer, which we have to assume they will.

So, yeah, a Kershaw-type deal would seem to fit. It’d be a combination of back pay for 2014 and a advertising to the season ticket holders and media stakeholders over the next few seasons. It would mitigate the team’s risk — a 3-year contract won’t break the team — and it would even continue to signal to would-be free agents that the Giants will pay a market rate to honor top talent.

Farhan Zaidi has always said that it’s a good thing to have star players, but he came up with the A’s, when that wasn’t a reality. Keeping Kershaw in LA was something that made a lot of sense, and it’s probably no surprise that Zaidi’s deal with the Giants wasn’t finalized until after the Dodgers had completed Kershaw’s extension.

You’ll recall that the extension was the result of Kershaw opting out of the final two years of his original seven-year, $215 million contract. He had $65 million remaining for the last two years of the deal and what he and the Dodgers did was essentially tack on one more year to that at $28 million while lowering the AAV for the team’s standpoint ($31 million per year).

Maybe it’s not the absolute most efficient use of the team’s resources to allocate $31 million to a player who only appears once every five days and occasionally in a pinch hit role, but I suspect if you polled a lot of Giants fans at Oracle Park on any given night, you’d probably get a majority of respondents answering positively to the question, “Is Madison Bumgarner worth $31 million a year to the Giants?”

We know money’s not the issue for this team, though. Boosting his salary by 258% isn’t going to put the team in a tough financial spot over the next few years. They’ll be almost $90 million beneath the luxury tax threshold heading into the offseason, and after 2020, they’ll be free of Samardzija’s $18 million AAV as well. Keeping Bumgarner around, especially with him pitching decently, will at least prevent a total cratering of fan interest going into next season. So, with no compelling financial reason to avoid such a deal, why should the Giants think twice?

Bumgarner should make six more starts this season, which if he averages six innings per, he’ll wind up with 200.2 IP on the season and 1,839 IP for his career in the regular season. Since 1989, there have been just nine pitchers to have pitched at least 1,800 innings between the ages of 19 and 29 (Bumgarner turned 30 on August 1st, but this is considered to be his age-29 season):

Clayton Kershaw opted out after an injury-riddled season that limited him to just 161.1 IP and with a concerning drop in his velocity. And yet, he’s rebounded by way of reinvention. The Dodgers have reduced his workload — he has not thrown more than 101 pitches nor gone more than seven innings in any start this season — and his 3.46 FIP is well above his career average of 2.70, but even with increases in the peripheral numbers and decline in his velocity, he has still been an extremely successful pitcher. He’s had a much higher perch from which to fall, and that could explain some of it. Championships aside, Clayton Kershaw will go down as one of the best to ever do it, so there can’t be a fair 1:1 comp here for Bumgarner.

But, again, given Bumgarner’s stature in the franchise and the team’s earnest need for his talents, to say nothing of his name being a draw, a 3-year $93 million deal would be a sound investment from the marketing perspective. I’m not so sure if the same can be said from a baseball ops standpoint. Here’s how the non-Bumgarner portion of that list did/has done in their age-30-32 seasons:

HERNANDEZ (30, 31, 32) — 88 ERA+ in 395.2 IP
SABATHIA (30, 31, 32) — 113 ERA+ in 648.1 IP
PORCELLO (30) — 88 ERA+ in 139.1 IP
GARLAND (30, 31, 32) — 101 ERA+ in 254 IP, but missed age-32 season with injury.
BUEHRLE (30, 31, 32) — 114 ERA+ in 629 IP
KERSHAW (30, 31) — 146 ERA+ in 304.1 IP
VAZQUEZ (30, 31, 32) — 119 ERA+ in 644.1 IP
CAIN (30, 31, 32) — 73 ERA+ in 274.1 IP

That’s four good outcomes, four bad ones. Garland’s line is a bit misleading. Again, he didn’t pitch in his age-32 season (2012), and after starting 33 in his age-30 season (2010) and throwing 200 innings, he started just nine games and threw only 54 innings in the following season before shoulder inflammation sidelined his season.

Mark Buehrle and Madison Bumgarner aren’t good comps because they’re different pitchers, and Buehrle’s finesse, Glavine-esque arsenal and sequencing now belong to another era. Porcello is just now finishing his age-30 season. Matt Cain was bad in the two years prior to his 30-32 years. Vazquez and Hernandez are, like, Buehrle, not comparable to Bumgarner, not only because they’re right-handed, but because they were different kinds of pitchers. So, that just leaves CC Sabathia.

CC Sabathia was an overpowering force on the mound with a blazing four-seam fastball and power slider. As his fastball velocity declined, he mixed in a sinker more and then a changeup. It’s not a perfect 1:1 comparison, but in terms of physical stature and personality, he comes close. His age-32 season (2013) was the last time he threw 200 innings, by the way. Since then, he’s thrown 788 innings and posted a 102 ERA+ through a myriad of injuries and ineffectiveness. He’s more of a veteran presence/fourth or fifth starter-type these days.

Felix Hernandez, in his age-33 season this year, might be in his final few weeks on a major league roster. Jon Garland, after missing his age-32 season, started 13 games and threw just 68 innings for the Rockies in his age-33 season and then was out of baseball. Mark Buehrle pitched four more years and was fine (107 ERA+ in 806.2 innings), but again, he’s an outlier. Javier Vazquez pitched two more full seasons and then was out of baseball.

The point is that this will very probably be Madison Bumgarner’s last big contract, and that’s why a 3-year deal with the Giants is no guarantee. He might want the security of a 5-year deal to carry him through what will probably be (barring injury) the end of his “useful life” as a starting pitcher for a major league team. The arm can only throw so many pitches.

He’ll need to reinvent himself in some way, too, and maybe the Giants won’t be the best environment for that to happen. Too many ties to the memories of when his body could do more of what he wanted. Too many familiar faces. Too much of the same. But if the Giants do manage to keep him around, it will be a sign that they value his representative continuity, and in that case, what he brings to the table extends far beyond declining on-field performance.

Mentoring new pitchers? We can only hope. Being one of the few Giants to show any life on the field? Almost certainly. Firing up the fan base during another season when the Giants finish 15-25 games behind the Dodgers? Why not? He’s been doing that all by himself for the last couple of seasons. The Giants wouldn’t be re-signing an ace, they would be re-signing an icon, and for a team that’s about to lose one (Bruce Bochy) as others (Posey, Crawford, and Belt) fade away before our very eyes, it wouldn’t hurt to have another one around who might be able to help out if the rebuild comes to fruition sooner than expected. As most of this season has shown us, that’s a definite possibility in the next couple of years.