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NL West Arms Race Leaves Dodgers Out in the Cold After Madison Bumgarner Signing

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 16, 2019

San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner works against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

If the top story of the Major League Baseball offseason is how much high-profile targets are going for, the one just below it is the frequency with which the Los Angeles Dodgers are missing out.

The latest star to escape their grasp is longtime San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who agreed to a five-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

ESPN's Jeff Passan was first with the news, while Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic later provided the terms:

Ken Rosenthal @Ken_Rosenthal

Bumgarner to #Dbacks, five years, $85M, $15M deferred, sources tell The Athletic. First with agreement: @JeffPassan.

According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the left-hander's contract also includes a limited no-trade clause that covers five teams.

Though the Snakes weren't widely viewed as a favorite for Bumgarner, the man himself might have had a different notion all along, as The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly noted:

Andrew Baggarly @extrabaggs

It’s very possible Bumgarner left money on the table to sign with Arizona. I’ve been telling folks all winter that the Diamondbacks would be at the top of his list. He and his wife, Ali, love it there. 🐎 https://t.co/23GY1n8oJk

Bob Nightengale of USA Today had recently reported that the 30-year-old was seeking a five-year deal worth more than $100 million. In a market that has paid out $324 million to Gerrit Cole, $245 million to Stephen Strasburg and $118 million to Zack Wheeler, that sounded like a reasonable ask.

Yet as Rosenthal noted, Bumgarner's $85 million will go as far in Arizona as $100 million would have in California thanks to differences in state taxes. Between that and his apparent fondness for the state, he won't be complaining about his new contract any time soon.

Likewise, the Diamondbacks should be feeling pleased with themselves.

Ralph Freso/Associated Press

A rate of $17 million per year is more than fair for a pitcher with four All-Star selections and three World Series rings under his belt. Backing up those accolades is a 3.13 ERA across 11 regular seasons, plus a spectacular 2.11 ERA over 102.1 innings in the postseason.

Granted, a disconnect between Bumgarner's reputation and reality has materialized over the last three years. He missed much of 2017 and 2018 with shoulder and hand injuries, respectively. He was healthy in 2019, but he pitched to a good-not-great 3.90 ERA. His extreme home/road and platoon splits raise further doubts.

On the plus side, however, Bumgarner reasserted himself as a workhorse by logging 207.2 innings. Other silver linings include an uptick in fastball velocity and average spin rate.

And while Chase Field isn't quite Oracle Park, it has played more friendly to pitchers ever since the D-backs installed a humidor in 2018. He also made a wise choice to stick in the National League, which isn't as saturated with right-handed sluggers (see here and here) as the American League.

The 2019 Diamondbacks collected 85 wins mainly on the strength of an offense that scored five runs per game. With Bumgarner now leading some combination of Robbie Ray, Mike Leake, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen, their starting rotation appears to be an equally sturdy rock. 

If nothing else, the Diamondbacks have gained some breathing room over a San Diego Padres squad that has continued to load up by signing Drew Pomeranz and trading for Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, Zach Davies and Trent Grisham. If all goes well, the Diamondbacks might even leap to 90-plus wins next seasons.

Because the Giants seem to have plenty of money to invest after a surprisingly competitive 77-win season, their fans have every right to feel upset that Bumgarner is a goner. 

Meanwhile, Dodgers fans ought to feel their own frustration setting in.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 09: Manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dug out during the first inning of game five of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on October 09, 2
Harry How/Getty Images

When anyone last saw the Dodgers, they were following an otherwise triumphant 106-win season by fumbling their matchup with the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series.

That was merely the latest variation on a familiar theme. Though the Dodgers have won seven straight NL West titles since 2013 and went to the World Series in 2017 and 2018, they still haven't won it all since 1988.

They entered the winter in an ideal position to assemble what they needed to finally snap their championship drought in 2020. Namely, they boasted a ton of payroll flexibility and one of the deepest farm systems in MLB. So long as he was willing to take a few chances, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman should have been able to work wonders with these two advantages.

And yet the pattern of the Dodgers' winter has been aiming high and falling well short. 

They had their eyes on Cole, Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, only to watch them sign with the New York Yankees, Nationals and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. According to Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area and MLB Network's Jon Heyman, Bumgarner and fellow ace Corey Kluber were up next. But Kluber went to the Texas Rangers a few hours before news of Bumgarner's deal with Arizona broke.

The Dodgers have at least shored up their bullpen by signing 2018 All-Star Blake Treinen to a one-year deal. There are also still plenty of impact moves they might make. For instance, they could sign Josh Donaldson, re-sign Hyun-Jin Ryu or trade for Francisco Lindor.

Yet it feels like it's getting late early for the Dodgers. And because their whiffs on Cole, Strasburg, Rendon, Bumgarner and Kluber clearly aren't rooted in a shortage of assets, it's fair to point the finger at Friedman.

Friedman said back in 2016, "If you're always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent." That line helps explain why the Dodgers have done only one free-agent deal longer than four years under his watch. Generally, Friedman has sought to avoid risk and find good value.

To the extent that the Dodgers' wins have increased while their payroll has decreased, this approach has been successful. But these are mere consolation prizes as long as a title remains elusive. And from the way things are moving this winter, it should be clear that a risk-averse style isn't going to attract the shiny new toys the Dodgers require.

In other words, it's time for the Dodgers to leave their comfort zone.

                   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant