The bad news: Madison Bumgarner signed a long-term contract with a division rival.
The good news: that rival was not the Los Angeles Dodgers.
( was actually kind of looking forward to Bumgarner donning the Twins uniform next year. That seemed random and innocuous enough.)
But, on to Phoenix he goes. Some thoughts:
- As I have written many, many times, teams do not win year after year into infinity. It is the very rare franchise that pulls off a 1990’s Braves/21st century Patriots sort of run that seemingly never ends. But it does end. Even the Yankees have to rebuild from time-to-time. Which is to say: treasure the good moments. Always respond to a championship season with a deep well of gratitude. If you are a Giants fan you should have nothing but gratefulness in your heart for all Madison Bumgarner did from 2009-2019.
- It’s ok to feel things about him being somewhere else. Some are feeling angry at the Giants ownership/front office. Some are feeling angry at Madison. That’s all fine and part of being a fan. But it can also miss a couple of important realities, and that what we will talk about in the rest of this post.
Reality #1: The Giants are rebuilding. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that the Giants are transforming.
What once was an insular culture that rewarded loyalty and was willing to pay for past success, is now fully into the rational era of paying only for current value.
What this means is the next time the Giants discover an Aubrey Huff and turn a 1 year, $3 million dollar contract into an all-star/championship player, they will not reward him retroactively with a 2 year, $22 million contract. They will pay him what they value him for or they will let him go.
And this will create a tension with a fan base that falls deeply in love with its players, especially those players who are slightly colorful and help the team win.
Grant Brisbee said it well in his article on the Bumgarner non-signing:
would Bumgarner have been as valuable as a pitcher who made $16 million, perhaps? Or what if they could get similar production for $13 million? What about even less? We looked at a bunch of low-cost Kevin Gausman types, including the actual Kevin Gausman, and maybe one of them will perform as well as Bumgarner next year. My guess is that one of them will do just that, and a team will win the pitching lottery. The Giants are looking for those values in a beep-boop-beep robot voice because value is the way to win, and winning is the real way to sustainability.
Quick aside: what Grant described is the whole ballgame now, and it is an approach many Giants fans have wanted for a while. Why sink money into Mark Melancon’s, and even dare I say Matt Cain’s, when there are other ways to get similar production, ways that create deeper more complete teams?
Why? Because we love Matt Cain. Like it or not, the days of rewarding Matt Cain’s are over.
Reality #2: There’s a really good chance Madison Bumgarner did not want to be in San Francisco anymore. He’s never had a manager not named Bruce Bochy. Now that Boch is gone, might as well start fresh somewhere else, right? There’s also the issue of how the team reacted to his dirt-bike accident, and the lack of negotiations on a long term contract.
There’s also the not-so-small issue of state taxes:
Two notes on Madison Bumgarner: 1) Per sources, he was the #Nationals’ Plan B if they had not re-signed Stephen Strasburg. 2) A California-based team would have needed to offer him $100M to match the net after tax of $85M from the #Dbacks (h/t @SportsTaxMan).— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 16, 2019
Bumgarner never seemed like a guy who loved California so much that he’d be willing to pay a bit more to the government just for the right to be here. (This is becoming a thing in all major sports, btw).
Second aside: no professional athlete at Madison Bumgarner’s level is ever “underpaid” in the grand scheme of the universe. That being said, Madison may go down as the most underpaid baseball player of all time. He just finished a very team friendly deal, a deal that allowed the Giants to sign or keep many good players along the way.
Put another way, Bumganer just signed basically the same deal at Jeff Samardzija. It’s not anywhere close to what Matt Cain, Johnny Cueto, or Barry Zito got from the Giants. It’s not as much per year as what Tim Lincecum got from the Giants. He’ll be making roughly half of what Clayton Kershaw makes next year.
We may never know the exact reason, but it does seem like was not just about a ruthless front office moving on from a franchise icon. I think Madison wanted to go as much as anything else.
Which brings us back to the transformation of the Giants. So far this off-season, the front office has bought another team’s 2019 first round draft pick (thank you Angels), and accumulated 4 top picks in the 2020 draft (I believe it’s 4 of the first 85 picks, which in baseball is a very good haul).
In terms of rebuilding, Farhan is doing everything right, and you will see the Giants skyrocketing up the list of top farm systems in the very near future. This is no guarantee that it translates to success, it just means the process is pretty solid, especially considering this process has not included a “blockbuster” type deal where the team dumps “stars” for a load of prospects.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this approach is very different, that the Gabe Kapler hire still rankles many people, and that 2020 is most likely going to involve quite a bit of losing.
I have had my quibbles with how the process is going, the main one being, at some point they need to do something definitive. As solid as the process has been, it feels like a lot of throwing pasta against the wall to see what sticks. We still don’t have a definitive sense of what kind of player this Front Office really likes, what kind of team they want to be, other than some vaguely A’s/Dodger’s clone.
I believe that’s part of the reason why fans are struggling. That sense of definition may come soon enough with the emergence of Joey Bart and others, but for now it all feels too nebulous, and the only solid things to hold on to continue to float away.