Will one of the greatest postseason pitchers in MLB history have another October run in 2019? Giants ace Madison Bumgarner approaches the trade deadline as perhaps the top pitcher available on the market, capable of propelling any contender to the World Series. But Bumgarner’s trade prospects have become quite murky over the last month.
The Giants are scalding hot at the moment, climbing to second in the NL West at 51–50 entering Tuesday night. San Francisco has won 16 of its last 19, and is just two games back of the second NL wild-card. Perhaps a magical August and September awaits.
Bumgarner reportedly wields a strategically constructed eight-team no-trade list comprised of contenders. Only one team below is not on his list, the A's. That doesn't mean he won't accept a trade from the Giants to those teams, but he'll want something in return (money, likely) for doing so. With that in mind, here are the top five landing spots for Bumgarner to finish out the 2019 season.
1A. San Francisco Giants
It feels like we have to start here, right? Doing nothing is always easier than doing something. Farhan Zaidi, San Francisco’s top baseball executive, remained non-committal on Sunday when discussing the upcoming deadline, telling the media “it’s impossible to say” whether a deal will be made by July 31. Zaidi’s approach is the right one. If a strong package emerges, Bumgarner may be shipped out of town by the deadline. But that "strong package" will only need to grow in strength if the Giants keep creeping up the standings.
It's worth noting the Giants will receive something for Bumgarner even if they don't trade him: Presumably he'll turn down a qualifying offer at the end of this season, awarding the Giants with a first-round draft pick they wouldn't receive if they traded the lefthander. Of course, there's also the fact that Bruce Bochy is in his final year with the Giants. Maybe it’s best to let him and MadBum exit the Bay Area together at the end of the season.
1B. New York Yankees
Back to the purpose of this exercise. Brian Cashman and Co. have kept their wallets relatively tight over the past 12 months, shying away from blockbuster trades and nine-figure contracts. But New York may finally strike over the next week.
The Yankees would probably love to snag Trevor Bauer from Cleveland, but his price may exceed New York’s comfort level. Bumgarner fits the profile of an appealing asset. His rental status restricts the haul he’ll receive in return, and his playoff chops are enticing in the Bronx. A 1.55 ERA and 34 strikeouts over his last 29 innings this season should help smooth concerns over his declining velocity, especially after his nine-inning, one-run outing against the Mets on July 18. The Yankees are in prime position to bring home title No. 28; adding Bumgarner could vault them over the top.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are unlikely to pick up salary for a pitcher with multiple years left on his deal, but snagging an expiring Bumgarner makes sense for a surging Atlanta squad. The Braves hold a 6 1/2-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East, poised for a second straight division title for the first time since 2004 and 2005. But Atlanta could fade come playoff time without another arm.
The Braves can roll with rookie sensation Mike Soroka in Game 1 of a playoff series without Bumgarner. That’s a scary proposition, even given his 2.46 ERA across 102 1/3 innings. Perhaps Dallas Keuchel seizes the role given his postseason experience, though he hasn’t exactly been lights out in Atlanta. The Braves appear to be a starter short in a crowded NL playoff field, and advancing past the Dodgers is implausible given the Braves current roster construction. Acquiring Bumgarner could trade the calculus.
3. Houston Astros
Houston has a claim to be the World Series favorites as we approach August, and Bumgarner would certainly solidify their standing atop the league hierarchy. Houston’s lineup is deep and dominant, with Yordan Alvarez looking more like David Ortiz with every powerful lefty cut sending balls deep into the rightfield seats. Justin Verlander is a certified ace and Gerritt Cole is nearly on par with him. Bumgarner would be the ultimate finishing piece as Houston rounds out its starting rotation.
The Astros may not be able to offer the same prospect haul as Atlanta or New York, but Houston has also appeared willing to separate with legitimate assets for the right player. President of Baseball Operations Jeff Luhnow isn’t afraid to make a splash as evidenced by the Verlander deal that led to the 2017 World Series. A similar move before the July 31 deadline could net the Astros their second title in the last three seasons.
4. Oakland A’s
We stay in the AL West to examine a potential dark horse for Bumgarner. The A’s could swoop in for a rare deadline addition if MadBum’s prospect price holds steady, gearing up for another potential wild-card matchup. The Yankees battered Oakland and its opener in last year’s wild-card game, banging their way past Liam Hendriks and Fernando Rodney. A proven playoff ace is a clear upgrade. The A’s enter Tuesday night 7 1/2 games back of Houston for the division lead. Even given their recent surge, winning the AL West is likely a pipe dream. But Bumgarner is still an enticing piece, capable of blazing through the wild-card game before another start late in the ALDS.
Lastly, don't forget before Zaidi worked for the Dodgers and Giants, he started out his front office career with the A's for many years. He knows how they operate and the players they covet.