The San Francisco Giants are about to get their workhorse back.
That would be Madison Bumgarner, the unflappable left-hander who was a key part of the Giants' 2010 and 2012 World Series wins and the key to their 2014 title.
Bumgarner is a four-time All-Star and four-time top-10 Cy Young Award finisher. Other than a dirt bike-induced shoulder injury in 2017 and a broken left pinkie suffered on a comebacker during spring training in March, he's defined durability. He eclipsed 200 innings every season from 2011 to 2016 and won't turn 29 until Aug. 1.
So, as San Francisco prepares for its ace's first start of the season Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, it should...consider trading him?
Take a deep breath, AT&T Park faithful, and mull this seemingly preposterous proposal with an open mind.
Yes, the Giants are 30-30 entering play Tuesday, within striking distance of at least a wild-card slot in the National League.
Yes, it's an even year. The return of Bumgarner and—hopefully, at some point—right-hander Johnny Cueto from a sprained right elbow could propel San Francisco into the postseason mix. Maybe it'll get something from injured and underperforming right-hander Jeff Samardzija and young arms such as Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez.
The Giants aren't sunk in 2018, especially with the defending National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers having issues of their own, including biceps and back injuries to Clayton Kershaw.
Long-term, however, San Francisco's prognosis is tenuous bordering on bleak.
At the start of the season, Joel Reuter ranked S.F.'s farm system No. 28 in the game. The Giants will pick second in Monday's amateur draft, but the fact will remain: They aren't flush with blue chips.
In addition, San Francisco's championship core is aging. Catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt are all on the other side of 30. Outfielder Hunter Pence has been reduced to role-player status at best.
The Giants brought in veterans this offseason—including center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Evan Longoria—in the hopes of making at least one more October sprint. Realistically, the Orange and Black are on the precipice of a rebuild or, at minimum, a significant retool.
If they go rebuild, there is no player on the roster who would fetch a bigger cache of prospects than Bumgarner.
He hasn't pitched in the big leagues in 2018. He dominated in a pair of rehab stints, however, allowing two hits and one run with 15 strikeouts in 8.1 innings.
"As long as the front office says I'm ready, I guess I'm ready," Bumgarner said, per Kerry Crowley of the Mercury News.
The front office says so. The eyeball test says so. History says so.
If you're betting against Bumgarner, you're betting against the odds.
We're talking about a guy who engineered one of the most iconic pitching performances in Fall Classic history in 2014. A star who has established his mettle in the playoff crucible.
Oh, and lest we forget: Bumgarner is signed through 2019 with a ludicrously affordable $12 million team option.
Maybe the Giants will keep him through 2018 and see if they can grasp one more Commissioner's Trophy before shopping Bumgarner in the offseason. Maybe they'll ink him for the long haul.
If he pitches like his old self and San Francisco doesn't rise in the standings, though, it'll be time to begin the countdown to a blockbuster trade.
Painful as it would be for the Giants to say goodbye to a snot rocket-slinging franchise cornerstone and one of the best postseason pitchers of all time, a Bumgarner swap would boost the team's lackluster farm system and set it up for the future.
ESPN's Buster Olney floated the possibility in April.
"The left-hander would become the most coveted trade target in baseball—maybe one of the most sought-after summer market pieces in baseball history—if the Giants ever auctioned him off, and he would probably glean at least two high-end prospects for an organization thin on minor-league talent," Olney opined.
The New York Yankees have the burgeoning offensive nucleus to gild their trophy case. The Houston Astros are trying to repeat as World Series champs. The Washington Nationals are hoping to make a run in Bryce Harper's probable D.C. swan song.
Could the Giants, who have failed to develop an impact outfielder from the minors for decades, net the Yanks' Clint Frazier, the Astros' Kyle Tucker or the Nationals' Juan Soto—plus ancillary pieces?
The list of teams that would benefit from Bumgarner's services is as long as the list of teams with a shot at the playoffs.
That list includes the Giants, which is what makes this a sticky situation. But if Bumgarner returns and pitches like Bumgarner, San Francisco should heed the writing on the wall and flip him for controllable talent.
It'll hurt. Sometimes, though, a brighter future requires pain in the present. Sometimes, it means letting your workhorse go.