2019 is the zenith of the Yankees’ championship window. The club has the best lineup in baseball, and possibly the best bullpen. The only weak point is its starting pitching.
Everyone knows what the Yankees need – they need a proven starter who can take the ball deep into games, preferably one with postseason experience. The team needs a big-time move.
It’s time to discuss the most divisive trade deadline target of 2019 – the Yankees and Madison Bumgarner.
First, some background. Madison Bumgarner is not what he used to be. The 29-year-old, 2019 version of Bumgarner is not the 3-time World Champion that put the Giants on his back en route to a World Series in 2014. However, he still has value and would become the second-best starter on this Yankees team.
Bumgarner’s career can be split into two periods – his prime from 2010-2016 when he won three World Series, made four All-Star teams, and averaged 198 innings per season. He was a workhorse with swagger on the mound that rubbed some people the wrong way, a throwback to the days of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
Since then though, Bumgarner has entered the second part of his career, the one marred by injuries. Over the last three years, he’s pitched in just 57 games due to mostly freak injuries like a motorbike accident and getting hit in the hand by a baseball. Thus, while Bumgarner has missed time these few years, he’s not exactly breaking down physically.
Bumgarner’s numbers have also declined over time, but they’re not bad. Take a look at how his numbers compare from his prime to his recent years.
This decline is somewhat natural. Bumgarner is getting older and he’s got a lot of stress on his arm, but I’d hesitate before calling him done. He still has good strikeout and walk rates and his velocity hasn’t dropped enough yet to be a concern. Bumgarner’s true decline is likely two or three years away. As presently constructed though, Bumgarner is still a solid pitcher who would make the Yankees better this year.
Now, I understand that the Yankees wouldn’t necessarily want to acquire the next 2-4 years of Bumgarner, when the wear and tear really starts to manifest itself. However, Bumgarner is only signed through this season – he’s a pure rental. The prospect of using Bumgarner as a hired gun for this season only should appeal to the Yankees.
There are still a couple of obstacles in the way here. The Giants will ask a lot for Bumgarner in a trade. He is their franchise ace for a generation of fans, but reports are that no one is biting at such a high asking price. There are also reports that the Yankees aren’t interested in trading their top bargaining chip, Clint Frazier, for strictly a rental – they’d prefer a player with club control for more than one season.
You have to give to get at the trade deadline, though. If Brian Cashman has the chance to add an impactful starting pitcher for a player who has no future on this club, he should do it. The Yankees have sat around before at the deadline on older starters due to the fears that their best days were behind them – think Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish.
Some of those were good moves – Darvish has never been the same since the Rangers traded him – but Hamels and Verlander are still impact starters deep into their 30s. Verlander in particular became the reason the Astros won the World Series, eliminating the Yankees along the way.
I’m not suggesting that Bumgarner would have a 2017 Verlander impact; that’ll probably never happen again. However, just because a pitcher is approaching 30 years old does not mean that he’s toast. Bumgarner’s numbers aren’t what they used to be, but they’re better than most of the Yankees’ rotation. He definitely presents an upgrade.
Baseball is becoming more and more analytics-driven, and Bumgarner is a tried and true old school pitcher entering his 30s. However, he’s a gamer and a proven winner that fills a hole for the Yankees. Bumgarner is nothing less than the best playoff pitcher of the decade, and one of the five best of the century.
While most of that performance was a number of years ago, he still has that fire inside of him. Bumgarner gives it his all in San Francisco for what has become a losing team, and you can be sure that he’d be psyched up pitching in October for the Yankees, chasing his fourth championship.
Yankees fans this year are in one of two camps regarding Bumgarner, and they’re not likely to change sides. There are those who think the team needs a proven, big-game pitcher with postseason moxie, and there are those who think the team would likely be giving up too much for three months of a declining pitcher who has a touchy personality.
In the end, both sides have some truth. Bumgarner is declining and there’s always risk involved with acquiring a rental. However, he’d be no worse than the third-best starter on this team and would be a safer, more trustworthy option for Aaron Boone than the more volatile Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer or Zack Wheeler, albeit with a lower ceiling.
The Yankees need a pitcher at the deadline, and Bumgarner is the biggest name available. The question is, what is that worth to the Yankees? If I’m in charge, it’s worth whatever it takes.