Does Madison Bumgarner Deserve to Be MLB's Next $30M-Per-Year Pitcher?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants throws a pitch in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants can keep Madison Bumgarner through 2019 if they want to. Spoiler alert: They want to.

Last season's shoulder injury aside (more on that shortly), Bumgarner has been one of the best left-handers in the game for years. He was an indelible part of the Giants' championship troika—an innings-eating, cutter-slinging, snot-rocket-blasting stud.

Since 2010, Bumgarner ranks 10th among pitchers with a 29.4 fWAR. The only southpaws with a better mark during that span are Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Chris Sale, Jon Lester and Cole Hamels. That's an elite list.

The Giants aren't about to lose MadBum. Thanks to a team-friendly extension he signed in April 2012, San Francisco was able to exercise a $12 million club option for 2018 and can do the same next year. After that, Bumgarner would hit the open market.

Hence word from general manager Bobby Evans on MLB Network Radio (h/t Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News) that the Giants and their ace have "mutual interest" in another contract extension.

To his credit, Bumgarner has been sanguine about the pact he signed in 2012, with no hint of bitterness over money left on the table.

"You know, that was life-changing money for me," the 28-year-old said in 2015, per Pashelka. "We're set, my family is set forever. And I had a year, barely, at that time."

Now, Bumgarner has an impressive track record: four All-Star appearances, four top-10 NL Cy Young Award finishes and the aforementioned trio of rings. Needless to say, he won't be offering any hometown discounts this time.

So, the question becomes: Should San Francisco make Bumgarner baseball's next $30 million per year pitcher?

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The brightest red flag is last season's shoulder injury. Bumgarner tumbled off a dirt bike in April 2017 and sprained his shoulder. It was a silly, avoidable setback that cost him nearly three months and contributed to the Giants' disastrous 98-loss season.

The counterpoint: Bumgarner returned from the disabled list and looked like his old self. He finished with a 3.32 ERA and 101 strikeouts next to 20 walks. Other than his modest 111 innings, it was a typically exemplary effort.

For a guy who spends the offseason hacking down trees, perhaps it should have come as no surprise.

That brings us to the other knock against Bumgarner: the number of innings he's put on his arm.

In nine big league seasons, Bumgarner has logged 1,508.2 frames. On top of that, add 102.1 postseason innings accumulated during San Francisco's deep, even-year runs.

That's a lot of wear and tear on any pitcher, even one as seemingly bulletproof as Bumgarner. Maybe he has another five to seven seasons of durability and dominance left in his ligaments. Or, maybe not.

Presently, the only pitchers making more than $30 million annually are Kershaw, Price and Zack Greinke. Each offers an illustrative example of the upside and pitfalls of such a massive expenditure.

Kershaw, despite battling back issues, is the best pitcher on the planet until further notice. There's almost no way the Los Angeles Dodgers or any team could overpay him right now.

Greinke was a mediocre letdown in his first season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016 but rebounded in 2017 to guide the Snakes to the National League's top wild-card position.

Price has been something close to a disaster since signing his deal with the Boston Red Sox, wrestling injuries and underperformance and acting as a monetary drag.

Bumgarner is younger than all three. His resume stacks up.

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Here's the final rub: San Francisco is already strapped financially. The Giants have the second-most committed payroll for 2018 and 2019 and the most for 2020 and 2021, per Spotrac. They've got an aging core and fallow farm system. They took on veteran third baseman Evan Longoria via trade and much of the $81 million he's owed through 2023, his age-37 season.

Backing up the Brink's truck for Bumgarner would resonate with the base and possibly even be a prudent move in isolation. But it would severely limit the Giants' ability to improve elsewhere and could make an already tight budget untenable.

The real question, then, is not if Bumgarner is worth $30 million a season (possibly so), but whether San Francisco can afford it (probably not). If he were a free agent, sure, someone would and should pay it. The Philadelphia Phillies have all kinds of payroll flexibility. The Dodgers and New York Yankees are perennially primed to crack the piggy bank.

The Giants want to keep MadBum, for optics as much as strategy. Painful spoiler alert: It'd be a good idea for many other clubs, but maybe not for them.

     

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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