Baseball

We pulled together our baseball quadrant–Adam Hess, AJ, Wes French, and yours truly, to gauge where we are as the Winter Meetings heat up.

Welcome FFUD Baseball staff. It’s Winter Meetings time, and I’m surrounded by three Sox fans feeling their oats while I’m the lone, nihilistic Cubs fan. Pretty sweet so far, right? Grandal in tow, and at least what seemed a credible run at Zack Wheeler (although it’s always credible after the fact with the Sox, isn’t it?). Where are you and what would you like to see happen now?

AJ: My initial reaction to missing out on Wheeler basically had a “these fucking idiots did it again” kinda feel to it. Now after looking at how it all played out in the cold light of day I’m happier that the Sox at least had the highest bid (which was creeping towards the Overpay, but whatever it’s not my money).

The Sox still need at least one starter and a right fielder. With the Nats basically saying they can only afford one of the Strasburg/Rendon pair the Sox should hope it’s Rendon (it probably should be, looking at how much the Nats have already spent on pitching) and go all in after Strasburg. If not him, Ryu would be an excellent consolation prize.

Wes: Greetings, and let me open with a sentiment I share with Blake Snell:  I wish it was White Sox slapdick prospect Nick Madrigal heading to TB for Tommy Pham instead of him packing for San Diego. Not sure how my Sox counter parts here feel about little Nicky, but I Say deal him now before he’s a mediocre MLB slap hitter in 2021.

Grandal was a great first step, and while it’s a disappointment to lose out on a guy like Wheeler I think it’s more of a disappointment that he was plan A.  Cole and Strasburg may have told the Sox no thanks from the jump, but they have more than enough of Manny Machado’s money laying around to change minds. The only silver lining here is we haven’t been subjected to Kenny Williams getting on camera to boast about offering a baseball player a contract that didn’t get him signed. I’d be very pleased with Ryu and Keuchel in that order and if they stay all the way out on MadBum.

 You feeling any tingles over Dan Winkler signing for the Cubs, Fels? 

 Fels: Well, honestly unless you’re getting an absolute sure thing in the pen (hello Drew Pomeranz and even he might not be) you’re better off going cheap with guys who have great stuff who you think you can mold. Just line up like nine guys who throw 117 MPH and see if you can’t get five of them to find the plate in your pitching lab. So Winkler seems to be that. But obviously it’s not what I want.

But honestly what I want from the Cubs at these meetings is what I don’t want them to do. Don’t make a rash trade just for the sake of it. Don’t trade one of THE FIVE simply to save Ricketts money down the road. I’m sure there are plenty of good baseball deals for Willson Contreras out there, but you’re also trading what, the second best offensive catcher at worst in the game? With improving framing skills (according to some). With a new mentor as manager. Tread lightly. Basically I’m going to spend the week with my head under a pillow.

 Speaking of Rendon…where is it the Sox would play him, exactly?

 Wes: 2B. Or move Yoan back to 2B. Or RF, I mean he seriously can’t be any worse than the clown show they’ve trotted out there for years. Things in right were so bad in 2019 the usual blog/personalities covering the Sox were pining for the days of Avi Garcia. If Rendon will take your checks you just sign him and sort out positions later. I really don’t think he’d have a problem with 2B at this stage, having been there previously and diminishing a bit at 3B last season. Plus you can roll him into the DH convo and play Leury there in a pinch.

 But lets be real, Rendon is going home to Texas so all that was pointless. I DEMAND STARLING MARTE AND KEONE KELA. Send em Madrigal and Collins and Stiever and be done with it. And Hess, if you wanna argue with me about Stiever (and I have no reason to believe you do but just assume so cause arguing is fun!) you are wrong. There isn’t a pitcher in this org that I’d hold up any deal for that isn’t named Kopech.

 AJ: Wherever he wants to play, basically. He’s a plus defender at third and Moncada can move back to second opening up Wes’s favorite prospect for a trade for a RF or SP.

 Going back to what Wes mentioned, I don’t quite get the hate for MadBum. I get that he’s a mostly fly ball pitcher, but so is Giolito. MadBum improved the spin rate on his four-seamer almost as much as Lucas did, and while he didn’t have the same results the stuff is still there. Sure, he’s logged more innings than anyone else on the market, but it’s because he’s won WS rings. That kind of experience could be greatly beneficial to a young staff like the Sox have.  Plus he’s fucking crazy and I feel like him and Tim Anderson on the same team would turn into the ultimate buddy cop movie. Bare minimum it would be worth watching.

 What do you guys think?

 Wes: I think the miles on MadBum are what turn me off, and I counter your Tim/MadBum with Eloy/Ryu as a the pranksters of the clubhouse angle as more fun than MadBum getting redass at anyone that takes him deep and inevitably hits the Goose. 

 AJ: I’m certainly not against Ryu by any stretch of the imagination, but by the same token of MadBum’s miles are the multiple issues Ryu has had with his shoulder.  I wonder if Hahn pivots now to focus on RF in the market since the best “not Cole or Strasburg” option at SP is off the table. I’m still not sold on Castellanos but honestly I’d take anyone who can un-suck RF at this point.

 Hess: Hi folks, long time listener, first time responder here. Keep Madison Bumgarner away from here, not just because of the mileage, but because his numbers the past few years are alarmingly similar to James Shields’ were the years before he got his big contract in San Diego.

 And while I’m late to this, Wes I have to admit your idea of trading for Tommy Pham is a good one, but trading Madrigal for him would’ve been outrageous. Even if Madrigal is a slap hitter in MLB in 2021 (and don’t kid yourself, he will be in MLB at some point in 2020) his contact abilities and baserunning, plus his defense, are going to make him a certifiable MLB player. He just doesn’t have a ton of power upside with that bat, but he probably will be a 110-115 wRC+ type with plus defense. While I’m certainly not opposed to trading him, I need a hell of a lot more than Tommy Pham there.

 Wes: I’m really not into Castellanos or Ozuna at this point, mostly because the Sox have essentially locked up DH at bats for the next few years by locking up Grandal/Abreu together for at least the next three seasons. They’re definite upgrades over the status quo, but the idea of either remaining in RF for the duration of a deal is kind of horrifying. 

 Fels….I feel like we’re leaving you out in the cold here. I know you’d rather NOT see the big five dealt and I’d rather NOT have to worry about what Hess alluded to in Jerry dealing with Boras as the only hope for SP – yet here we all are. The Cubs are determined to move someone for some reason, so what kind of deal would piss you off least?

 Fels: If I have to stomach one, and I will maintain to my dying day (next week) that the Cubs absolutely should not trade any of their central players, but Contreras for a genuine starting pitcher and maybe another piece probably would keep me from taking a 2×4 to something. The Cubs have a decent fill-in in the form of Caratini, with a promising kid in Amaya not too far behind. Willson is a lot to give up, and you’ll get some debate on whether his defense is eroding or improving. He’s also the emotional heartbeat of this team, but whatever. That one I could handle, barely. Anything else and I’m puking. But the idea of trading him or Bryant for merely prospects to “extend the window” is pure lunacy and any Cubs fan that finds that line of thought acceptable should be defenestrated twice, just to make sure.

 

 

Baseball

The Giants held all the keys, or marbles, or cards, whatever game we were playing, at the trade deadline. They had the most sought-after reliever in Will Smith. They had perhaps the most coveted starter in Madison Bumgarner. The Giants could have started planning for a future they’ve put off for years now, as the glow from #EvenYear has finally faded.

And they chose to do nothing.

Oh sure, there was some tinkering. Out went Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon, the latter another panic signing in an attempt to plug holes on the good ship Giant a couple years ago. In came Scooter Gennett to try and fill what had become a black hole at second base, though he seems to have been swallowed up by it as well. Still, no major shift. No groundbreaking on a new era for the orange and black. No shift whatsoever.

Which makes one wonder what the plan here is for GM Farhan Zaidi. These current Giants clearly have an end date, and that’s after the 2021 season. Both Brandon Crawford‘s and Brandon Belt‘s contracts are up then, and Buster Posey will only have one more year that can be bought out for just $3M. Right now the three combined for some $55 million on the payroll, which has been something of an obstacle as together they’ve been worth exactly replacement level this season. They’re not going to be linchpins of this team in their mid-30s in two seasons, that much is clear.

And perhaps the Giants didn’t feel they were going to get those pieces in return for Smith or Bumgarner. Smith is a free agent after the year, and as good as he’s been, two months of a closer plus whatever playoff games you only might get him into just isn’t worth all that much. Bumgarner is having a bounce-back season as he’s hardly walking anyone, but he’s a free agent-to-be with a ton of miles. And only a couple of contenders would have felt they needed another starter. The Phillies? The Braves definitely could but believe in their young rotation as well as being overly miserly, and made their move with Dallas Keuchel. Where the Brewers or Yankees were on this is anyone’s guess, but the Yankees probably figure they’ll be throwing their bullpen for five or six innings in every playoff game anyway. Houston opted for Zack Greinke, objectively the better pitcher.

Still, what are the next two years, then? The Giants prospect pool is filled with kids who are at least two or three seasons away from being anything on The Cove. Perhaps Bumgarner or Smith don’t get you the players to come up and fill in that gap, but they might get you closer. Or maybe the offers were just that bad and Zaidi figured it was better to try and miracle half of a playoff spot (the Giants are only 3.5 games out of the second spot but have three teams to leap).

The Giants aren’t totally out over their skis financially for next year. Yes, the core of those three parades are taking down the aforementioned $55 million or so, and throw Johnny Cueto‘s and Evan Longoria‘s paper on top of that and that’s $91 million for four players who are on the back nine of their careers and one pitcher coming off Tommy John. Not ideal.

Still, the Giants aren’t paying anyone else after that, aside from Jeff Samardzija. And they might be able to move him along, as he’ll only have 2020 left on his deal. None of their arbitration players are due for huge raises. And the Giants weren’t afraid to at least look like they wanted to throw money around last winter, making some kind of attempt at Bryce Harper to finally give them ANYTHING in the outfield, which they haven’t had since Hunter Pence died.

That didn’t work, and this free agent class isn’t worth putting too many eggs in. Gerrit Cole would help things, whether in combination with a returning Bumgarner or as a replacement. But there isn’t much to help the lineup. Anthony Rendon can’t be crowbarred in with Longoria at third, unless they move the latter to left field? And Longoria is still good with the glove. J.D. Martinez can’t play in the NL without being a danger to himself and society as a whole, though you’d be tempted to see if everyone can survive with him in left. Nick Castellanos isn’t a team-turner.

And should the Giants just lose Smith and Bumgarner in free agency, they aren’t going to have anything to peddle next year to try and fill the gap in their old era and new. Samardzija isn’t landing you much other than space on the payroll. Maybe if Cueto proves to be healthy, as he’ll have another year and an option year left on his contract. Perhaps that’s what the Giants are banking on.

But without a splurge, or something really creative, this team is kind of just floating there for the next two, three, or four seasons. Good thing the ballpark is nice.

Baseball

There will be no bigger name on the move in the next week or so than Madison Bumgarner. That’s what happens when you get tabbed a playoff hero, seen as someone who can still swing a playoff series (rightly or wrongly, and mostly wrongly these days), and also keep your name in the headlines by being a miserable son of a bitch. Bumgarner checks all those boxes.

The first thing to clear up about Madison Bumgarner is he’s not THAT good. Through most of his career he’s been a low-level #1 or a high-end #2, which was fine when the Giants had Lincecum and Cain in front of him and worked out well when he did pitch like a celestial being for a few weeks in 2014. Since he came into the league, he ranks 13th in WAR, which is good but is also right on par with Gio Gonzalez and Anibal Sanchez and yes, Jose Quintanta (who has made 40 less starts than Bumgarner in that time). He’s not a Sale or Scherzer or deGrom or anything like that, though sometimes it feels like he’s billed as that because of 2014.

So what would any prospective team be getting from this Madison Bumgarner? One, it’s a healthy one finally, as MadBum only threw 241 innings the previous two seasons dealing shoulder problems caused and not caused falling off his dirtbike looking for various woodland creatures to cook over an open fire for dinner that week. Bumgarner has already thrown 125 innings this year, which pretty much matches last year’s total.

And those innings have been much more effective. He’s striking out far more hitters (9.10 per 9 vs. 7.57) and walking less (1.86 BB/9 vs. 2.98). His ERA is strangely worse but his FIP is much better. Also strange for a pitcher of Bumgarner’s age is that he’s gained some life on his fastball this year, averaging over 92 MPH on it for the first time in four seasons. That’s probably something to do with health. His curve is also getting more sweep, picking up horizontal movement without losing its tilt. It makes it more slurve-y, which isn’t ideal, and maybe why Bumgarner is using it far less than he did last year.

There are some warning signs with Bumgarner as well. One, his ground-balls are down measurably and the lowest rate of his career. Again, some of this is just because this is happening to most everyone, but a drop of five percent is more than one that can be dismissed as a sign of the times. And it’s been replaced mostly by line-drives, which is not good either. Bumgarner’s hard-contact rate is the highest of his career by a distance, and if he were to move to a park that didn’t require a bazooka to get a ball out of, that could turn into a real problem fast.

Recent outings only muddle the picture more. On the surface, Bumgarner has only given up three earned runs in his last four starts, But two of those comprised only seven innings combined, as rain shortened one start to two innings. The walks were non-existent, but there’s been a ton of loud contact in July (53%). Bumgarner has also lost a full MPH off his fastball in the month, which wouldn’t get anyone putting on their red shoes to dance the blues in excitement either.

The next question is what is Bumgarner worth. His contract being up after the season certainly lowers his value, and this is not Verlander or someone like that changing teams midstream. The Giants are probably dreaming about a package similar to Chris Archer netted the Rays last year, as Bumgarner is better than that. But it’s hard to find a teams as stupid as the Pirates again, and Archer wasn’t a free agent to be. That was two prime prospects, and any kind of bidding war probably inches the Giants toward that. What they may fear is a return that Cole Hamels provided the Rangers, which was a journeyman major leaguer in Eddie Butler, and a couple of lower-level lottery tickets that are nowhere near the majors. Bumgarner is younger and not struggling as Hamels was at the time, so the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

Then again, it becomes a question of do the Giants move him at all. Logic tells you there’s no choice to be made here, and their window has shut and whatever they feel they might “owe” mainstays like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford are just going to have to wait a few years while they try and redo the supporting cast beneath them. And the way Crawford is playing these days, it probably doesn’t matter anyway. Still, the Giants are one of the hottest teams in baseball, and are somehow only 2.5 games out of the wildcard. Of course, if you have to go nuclear just to get to .500 and be within touching distance of a coin-flip game with four teams to leap still, that’s pretty much every answer you need on what you should do.

Bumgarner’s trade isn’t going to change the fortunes of the Giants as heavily as they might want. But it would certainly signal a change in direction for good, and put an official bow on their run. Even though those things are hard to quantify and shouldn’t matter, they make this kind of move hard to deal with for everyone. But nothing lasts forever, except the three flags in the outfield at Oracle.