John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Let the Madison Bumgarner sweepstakes begin in earnest after the Giants' lefty delivered the most compelling reason this season to believe that he can still be an October difference-maker for any number of teams, the Yankees obviously being one of them.
More than ever the belief around baseball is the Giants are going to trade Bumgarner come July to kick off a needed rebuild. The question for weeks has been how much teams would be willing to give up as his stuff seemed diminished by age and two injury-plagued seasons.
Against the Braves on Thursday afternoon, however, Bumgarner's fastball, cutter, and curveball were crisp enough to produce 17 swings-and-misses, his highest such total since September of 2016, when he was a few weeks away from slamming the door shut on the Mets' postseason with a four-hit shutout in the wild-card game.
Overall his outing against the Braves wasn't quite a gem, as he threw 102 pitches over six innings, allowing six hits and two runs to go with six strikeouts, but it continued a trend toward dominance in recent starts that includes an increase in velocity on his fastball and cutter.
Don't think potential suitors aren't noticing.
"The swings-and-misses are what you want to see if you're evaluating him as a potential trade candidate," was the way one executive from a major league team put it Friday. "It tells you the stuff was there, and that's really the only question with him after the last couple of seasons. You know he can pitch and you know he's not fazed by any situation."
All of which could be a case of good news/bad news for the Yankees: the more appealing Bumgarner becomes to them as a last piece to a championship puzzle, the more it will cost to trade for him.
Of course, it's possible the Yankees will take a pass and instead sign free agent Dallas Keuchel as soon as the June 3rd amateur draft is held, at which point the lefthander won't cost them a draft pick.
That would allow them to save their trade chips as well, no small matter as the top levels of their farm system have been thinned out considerably the last couple of years.
Still, Keuchel isn't viewed as a difference-maker after age and shoulder injuries diminished his ability to pitch with precision the last couple of seasons, where it's possible Bumgarner might still have October dominance in him.
Over his last handful of starts Bumgarner's velocity on his fastball has risen a couple of ticks, hitting 93 mph on the radar gun often enough to get his average above 92, or back to about where it was before a dirt-bike crash in 2017 that injured his left shoulder and a line drive in 2018 that broke a bone in his pitching hand.
For the season the lefty's numbers aren't terribly impressive: 3-4 with a 4.10 ERA, and 68 hits allowed in 68 innings. And even with improved stuff in recent starts he hasn't shut teams down as he believes he should be.
"I feel like I'm throwing the ball as good as I ever have," he told reporters after a start last week. "The results not being there has been frustrating."
He started to see results on Thursday. If he'd been more efficient he would have gone deeper into the game, which the Braves eventually won 5-4 in 13 innings, but his pitch count got him after six innings.
Still, he was vintage Bumgarner in the sixth, striking out Josh Donaldson swinging a 92-mph sinking fastball, and then, with two outs and two runners on, getting Charlie Culberson swinging at an 88-mph down-and-in cutter.
The team executive I spoke to on Friday, whose team could be in play for Bumgarner at the deadline, said he was watching that sixth inning on TV in his office and came away impressed.
"His stuff looked good and he made the big pitch to get out of trouble," the exec said. "That's the intangible with him, going back to all those great post-seasons he had. That's what teams will be weighing if they're thinking about trading for him. Will you give up a little more than you might be comfortable with if you think he can still be that guy in the post-season?"
For the Yankees that question could be particularly relevant as the pressure is building to make good on high expectations this season and win their first championship in 10 years. All the more depending on the state of the injuries to James Paxton and Luis Severino come July.
And though Bumgarner has an eight-team no-trade clause that includes the Yankees, as reported by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the belief is he'll use it for leverage in some way, not to veto a deal.
After all, a trade benefits him in free agency next winter, as it would mean teams wouldn't have to give up a draft pick to sign him.
Of course, that's another reason for the Giants to extract a high price for a player who has legendary status in the Bay Area for the three championships he helped win with his 2.11 ERA over 102 post-season innings.
Would the Yankees overpay if it means giving up someone like Estevan Florial, their once-untouchable center field prospect?
At the very least, all those swings-and-misses against Bumgarner on Thursday gave them more reason to consider it.