Madison Bumgarner Injury Puts Giants in an Impossible Situation

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2017 file photo, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws during a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles. Madison Bumgarner's $12-million option for the 2018 season has been exercised by the San Francisco Giants, who are determined to keep a talented rotation intact as the club looks to bounce back from a last-place season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

After losing 98 games in 2017, the San Francisco Giants opted for a retool over a rebuild. They swung trades for veterans Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, sacrificing prospects and payroll space in the name of winning now.        

They doubled down on a roster anchored by franchise catcher Buster Posey and stud left-hander Madison Bumgarner

The former is the best backstop in MLB until further notice. The latter was coming off a season marred by a freak dirt-bike-induced shoulder injury. Surely such rotten luck wouldn't repeat itself, right?

Wrong.

In a spring training game Friday against the Kansas City Royals at Scottsdale Stadium, a Whit Merrifield line drive hit Bumgarner on his throwing hand. X-rays revealed a pinky fracture that will keep the 28-year-old on the shelf indefinitely. 

"It's just horrible news for us," Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said, per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. "It happened. There's nothing we can do but push on."   

Further, Baggarly noted, Bumgarner will have pins inserted in his hand that won't be removed for four to six weeks. It's possible he won't take the mound for the Giants until the All-Star break or later.

To put it bluntly, San Francisco is screwed.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The Giants already faced an uphill battle in a West division that features the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, last year's NL wild-card qualifiers.

Even with the additions of McCutchen and Longoria, the Giants needed everything to break right to sniff the playoffs in 2018.

Instead, they lost right-hander and ostensible No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija to a pectoral strain, per Baggarly. Then came the Bumgarner bombshell. 

Suddenly, a starting rotation that was slated to rely on the unproven Ty Blach and Chris Stratton is down its ace and its innings-eater. Johnny Cueto, the final established hurler remaining in San Francisco's dwindling starting five, had better watch his back.

The Giants offense finished dead last in home runs (128) and OPS (.689) last season. Longoria and McCutchen ought to help, but the Orange and Black always rely on pitching in the spacious confines of AT&T Park. 

Plus, San Francisco logged the 16th-best ERA in MLB in 2017 with a middling mark of 4.50. The team was banking on Bumgarner to ride in on his horse and save the day. Now, he'll be watching from the sidelines. 

Should the Giants accept the inevitable and initiate a fire sale? Maybe. But who will they sell?

Posey would draw interest, but he's the franchise backbone. Second baseman Joe Panik might be tradable, but he's coming off a middling offensive year. The same goes for shortstop Brandon Crawford.

Most of the impact players on the Giants' big league roster are on the wrong side of 30. Bumgarner, who is locked into a team-friendly deal that pays him $12 million this season with a $12 million team option for 2019, is their most attractive chip.

Needless to say, this isn't the moment to shop him.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

This is a bitter pill for Bumgarner, who was the picture of stamina before his recent rotten luck, per Michael Baumann of The Ringer:

"It's a cruel irony for the most durable pitcher of a generation for which Tommy John and shoulder fatigue are rites of passage: From ages 21 to 26, Bumgarner threw 200 innings or more six straight years. Even his postseason heroics are predicated not only on pitching well but pitching often: Three of his 14 career playoff starts were complete-game shutouts, and a fourth went eight scoreless. He clinched the 2014 World Series by throwing five scoreless innings on two days’ rest. Bumgarner’s connective tissue is impervious to your pitiful human weapons."

Bumgarner was supposed to be the antithesis of the modern pitcher who must be treated with kid gloves lest his tender arm gets overused. Now, after tumbling off a dirt bike and being nailed by an errant exhibition line drive, his injury woes are mounting. 

As for the Giants' woes? If Bumgarner comes back far sooner than expected, they could sneak into the wild-card race. They were already counting on a lot of good fortune, however. Without Bumgarner, they'd better stockpile rabbits' feet and four-leaf clovers.

All the top and mid-tier pitching free agents are off the board. The external options are exhausted.

The Giants hoped for a retool. Now, they're going to have to dig deep into their tool box, where they may find little more than rusty nails and dashed dreams. 

                

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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