These are the teams that NEED Bumgarner
By Mike Petriello | @mike_petriello
December 13, 2019
When the winter began, we knew one thing for sure about this free-agent class -- we figured that while it was thin in relievers and middle infielders, it was very deep in starting pitchers.
Slowly but surely, however, the list has been whittled down. The big names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler have signed huge deals. Mid-tier veterans like Tanner Roark, Kyle Gibson, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Jordan Lyles and Cole Hamels have found new homes. Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Adam Wainwright remained in their old ones.
All of which is to say: If you're still looking for starting pitching in the free-agent market, the options are suddenly slim, and left-handed. You can have the low-upside reliability of Dallas Keuchel, or the lower upside and lower reliability of Wade Miley, or the high-upside, high-risk gamble of Hyun-Jin Ryu. Or, you can have the man who might be somewhere in the middle. You could have Madison Bumgarner, a somewhat divisive free agent who may yet be the most desirable starter left.
We say "divisive," because it's not entirely clear what the 2020 version of Bumgarner is. Surely, the name value alone is immense, as is his reputation for being a legend in October. Then again, it's been more than three years (and two major injuries) since his last postseason outing, and his fastball has dipped from 92.7 mph at its peak in 2015, to 91.4 mph in '19. He still threw 207 2/3 innings of 3.90 ERA ball this past season, of course, and that's valuable to anyone. But the question is whether that makes him more of a second or third starter than an ace -- and there's also some concern about how he'll do outside the friendly confines of Oracle Park.
Still, he remains one of the most appealing pitching options available, one who should have his choice of a few different teams. But which ones need him the most? Countdown!
The teams that already made their starting pitching additions
30-25) Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Rangers, Nationals, Braves
There's no such thing as "too much starting pitching." Obviously, if you're a Mets fan, Bumgarner is a better pitcher than either Porcello or Wacha -- the same goes for the Rangers and Gibson or Lyles. But we're trying to remain within the bounds of reality here. If these teams continue to upgrade, it's not likely to be with a long-term deal for a starter.
The non-contenders that probably aren't a fit
24-19) Tigers, Pirates, Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Marlins
Bumgarner would improve any one of these teams. He'd probably be the Opening Day starter on most of them. He might be nearly guaranteed an All-Star slot on others. But if a huge part of the Bumgarner mystique is what he might bring you in October, is he going to a rebuilding club that probably won't see October? Probably not.
The American League contenders that just aren't going to be doing this
18-15) Indians, Rays, A's, Red Sox
Cleveland's rotation, as it stands right now: Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco, with Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac and Logan Allen in reserve. If not quite the best rotation in baseball, it's close, and the Indians' focus seems to be more on whether they're going to trade Francisco Lindor than adding a big-ticket starter.
In Tampa Bay, Bumgarner would actually be a fascinating addition to a rotation fronted by Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and potentially Brendan McKay and/or Brent Honeywell, but a contract like this is extremely not the Rays' style. Take all of that and apply it to Oakland, just swap out "Snell, Morton, etc." for "Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Chris Bassitt."
Boston's talked about trading David Price or Mookie Betts. It isn't signing Bumgarner.
The National League contenders that just aren't going to be doing this
14-12) Cubs, Rockies, D-backs
The Cubs are like the Red Sox in that they seem to be looking to subtract big salaries rather than add; either way, a rotation that starts with Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana is still a decent enough one. He'd fit, but it's not likely.
With the way their rotation flamed out in 2019, the Rockies, who still fancy themselves contenders, could absolutely use Bumgarner, but this is very much not happening. Pitchers with choices simply don't choose to go to Coors Field. (The Rockies haven't signed a Major League starting pitcher as a free agent since Kyle Kendrick in 2015.) And as general manager Jeff Bridich said when asked about signing a big starting pitcher in November: "I wouldn't put a ton of money on that." We won't.
The D-backs, it's worth noting, reportedly did discuss making an offer to Bumgarner, but at a financial level less than he's expected to receive, and they have bigger needs in the outfield anyway.
We've cut down nearly two-thirds of the Majors. Here's the final 11, where Bumgarner is almost certainly going to end up.
The Giants, because they're the Giants
San Francisco could easily be placed in a different bucket, but because of what Bumgarner has meant there over the years -- and because they're attempting to do their rebuild without totally tearing it down into a 110-loss roster -- the door has to at least be a little open here. There's nothing the Giants can do, most likely, to win a World Series in 2020. But bringing back Bumgarner would do a lot to soothe the fan base and might allow him to still be there when the Giants are ready to win again.
The ultimate heel turn
For Dodger fans, the thought of this is something akin to retroactively declaring that Sandy Koufax wore black and orange. This is Derek Jeter joining the Red Sox. It's Magic Johnson playing for the Celtics. It's difficult to see this actually happening, but it's reportedly been discussed.
At least, however, we'd find out if he went and got it out of the ocean.
The 2019 non-playoff teams that could use him
9-7) Padres, Blue Jays, Reds
The Padres have made plenty of moves this winter aimed at improving in 2020 -- Tommy Pham, Drew Pomeranz, Jurickson Profar, Zach Davies, etc. But if they don't add another starter, they're banking heavily on Garrett Richards to stay healthy (which he hasn't been since 2015) and Chris Paddack to make a big step forward in his second year.
Each of those things are possible. Are they probable?
The Blue Jays aren't going to sign Bumgarner. They aren't likely to contend in the AL East. Put them in the non-contender bucket if you like. We're putting them here because they have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., which is more than enough to be building around, and not nearly enough of a starting rotation.
The Reds, having signed Mike Moustakas, have made their intentions to contend in 2020 very clear. They attempted to sign Wheeler, and they've already been connected to Bumgarner.
Cincinnati might already have one of baseball's better rotations with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani. Bumgarner (or Ryu, or someone like them) could be the final push they need.
The 2019 playoff teams that could use him
6-4) Brewers, Astros, Cardinals
Milwaukee has been tied to Bumgarner for at least a year, and it entered the winter with a desperate need for starting pitching. It has done well to bring Josh Lindblom back from Korea, and it signed Brett Anderson to a one-year deal on Friday. (It also traded for Eric Lauer from the Padres, but at a cost of Zach Davies.) Brandon Woodruff may or may not be the ace it would like him to be. You'd feel a lot better about this group with another veteran starter atop it.
We've heard little to connect Houston to Bumgarner this winter, though it reportedly made an attempt to trade for him in July. We're including it here because, having lost Cole to the Yankees, it could use a good third starter -- not to mention some insurance against the health of soon-to-be 37-year-old Justin Verlander and 36-year-old Zack Greinke.
We have heard rumors connecting the Cardinals to Bumgarner, which makes sense enough, although their priority is likely in fixing a broken offense. They don't need Bumgarner as much as others, but it's difficult to rely upon Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez to provide 300 combined innings, too.
The three teams that should be desperately trying to get him
Minnesota set the all-time record for homers in 2019, but it knew it would be headed into the winter with a ton of questions in the rotation behind Jose Berrios. Though the Twins avoided losing Odorizzi when he accepted the qualifying offer, those questions remain. Gibson departed for Texas; Pineda returned, but he'll be unavailable through May as he completes a suspension for failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Put another way, the 3-4-5 spots in the Twins' rotation, if Opening Day were today, would go to Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe. That's not going to cut it if the Twins hope to defend their AL Central title.
2) White Sox
We pegged the White Sox as a potential breakout team as soon as the season ended, and praised them endlessly for being aggressive to import catcher Yasmani Grandal. The problem is, they haven't done much since. Wheeler reportedly turned down more money from them than he took from the Phillies, apparently because he preferred to stay in the Northeast. The Nomar Mazara acquisition was somewhat underwhelming, as his production has never lived up to his reputation or potential. In the meantime, the White Sox currently have the 24th-best projected rotation, which isn't good enough in a winnable AL Central.
Imagine Bumgarner next to breakout ace Lucas Giolito. It's a nice 1-2 punch. Now, imagine how the rotation would look if Giolito was once again left to lead Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Dylan Covey (plus the rehabbing Michael Kopech). Don't forget, also, the other benefit of adding Bumgarner: The Twins wouldn't get him.
The Angels made a truly huge splash by agreeing to a seven-year, $245 million contract with third baseman Anthony Rendon, giving Mike Trout the superstar partner he so badly needed, and upgrading a position that had a .651 OPS, the weakest in baseball. It's a huge, game-changing step forward ... and it's not nearly enough.
The 2019 Angels didn't have a pitcher make 20 starts, the first team in more than a century to manage that. They had the AL's highest rotation ERA (5.64), and all they've done to address it so far is to import a pitcher from the team with the AL's second-highest rotation ERA (Baltimore, 5.57). That's a little unfair to Dylan Bundy, perhaps, because he's a decently productive back-end starter, but the Angels badly needed to get either Cole or Strasburg, and instead they got neither.
Maybe they trade for Price or Kluber. There's an argument that they should sign Keuchel and Ryu. However they do it, another starter or two is absolutely crucial. Bumgarner would fit the bill in a number of ways. They simply can't enter 2020 with Andrew Heaney, Jaime Barria, Griffin Canning and Bundy all in the rotation, no matter how much they get from Shohei Ohtani.