The 2019 season has been a transitional year, to say the least, for the Giants franchise. Ownership hired Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi last offseason and named him president of baseball operations, and the Bruce Bochy farewell tour is nearing its completion as the end of the season looms. A perhaps improbable midseason hot streak may have kept the Giants from completely tearing down the roster, but it’s eminently possible that impending free agent Madison Bumgarner’s scheduled Sunday outing could be his last in a Giants uniform.
Giants CEO Larry Baer joined Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle for a half-hour interview (audio link) over the weekend to discuss a host of Giants topics. Giants fans, in particular, will want to give the entire interview a listen for Baer’s discussion of potential changes to Oracle Park, ticket prices, his perspective on the time he spent away from the team during his recent suspension and his overall impressions and takeaways from Zaidi’s first year on the job. But from a pure roster standpoint, specifically with regard to Bumgarner, Baer doesn’t speak as though a parting of ways is a foregone conclusion.
“I think Farhan has had ongoing discussions with his representatives throughout the 2019 season,” Baer says when asked about the possibility of an extension. “Characterizing them — I don’t want to get into what is or isn’t being discussed, but I know they’ve kept open lines of communication.”
The 30-year-old Bumgarner likely has two starts left as he looks to put the finishing touches on his healthiest season since 2016. He’s already topped the 200-inning mark for the eighth time in his illustrious career and is currently sporting a 3.86 ERA (3.78 FIP, 4.18 SIERA) with averages of 8.7 strikeouts and 1.8 walks per nine innings pitched. It’s not quite the dominant Bumgarner of old, but it’s nevertheless been a sharp rebound effort that has helped to quiet any concerns that might’ve existed surrounding his durability in the aftermath of 2017’s dirt bike debacle.
The question for Baer, Zaidi, the Giants and other interested parties, of course, will be one of how long and how lucrative an offer they’re willing to make to outbid the competition for Bumgarner. The lefty won’t turn 31 until next August, so he likely has at least a couple of prime years remaining. But the free-agent market has become increasingly harsh for players on the wrong side of 30, and we’ve seen fewer and fewer teams willing to push an offer past the hard number at which they value a particular asset. The days of impassioned bidding wars may not be over entirely, but they appear to be waning.
Furthermore, Zaidi’s track record with the Dodgers doesn’t suggest that he’ll adopt a “whatever it takes” mentality to keep Bumgarner. The largest sum of new money the Dodgers promised to a player under Zaidi and Andrew Friedman was Kenley Jansen’s five-year, $80MM contract — and Schulman reiterates in the podcast that he’s heard that was more an ownership-fueled decision than a front-office-driven reunion. The Dodgers also extended Clayton Kershaw shortly before Zaidi’s departure, but that deal “only” promised Kershaw an additional year and $28MM on top of the two years and $65MM from which he could’ve opted out. Baer references that as a “top-of-the-market” contract and points to the Giants’ own pursuit of Bryce Harper under Zaidi in suggesting that they won’t necessarily shy away from free agency — so long as a deal makes sense.
“It’s not so much, ’Hey do you have the money for Player X or the money for Player Y, and how much does ownership want to spend?'” Baer explains. “It’s more — how does Farhan and the staff want to bake the cake? The way he’s been successful baking the cake is doing a lot from within, making strategic moves when they make sense. … It’s not about being averse to spending money, but how do you really want to put the whole thing together? When you think about the way it was put together [from] 2009 on, when we won, it was put together pretty much internally. We would complement with free-agent signings a little bit — mainly [additions] at the break, at the trade deadline.”
Again utilizing the cake-baking analogy, Baer states that he believes Zaidi & Co. will do so “with depth, and with looking at current players and what we have in the farm system.” There’s nothing that expressly rules out a series of notable offseason additions, but it’s also far from the aggressive tone that ownership reps from other teams have offered up in recent offseasons (e.g. the Phillies’ “stupid” money decree or the Astros’ public acknowledgment of efforts to add a high-end starter). And while near the end of the interview, Baer suggests that contending for the postseason is a goal every year, including 2020, he spends more time preaching the importance of “taking another large stair-step” forward next season. Progress, he contends, can be measured by the “energy around the Giants,” which he expects to improve in 2020.
Given the Giants’ history with Bumgarner, it’d be a surprise if they didn’t have a significant presence in his offseason market, but beyond that obvious connection, Baer’s comments hardly seem like a portent for aggressive spending on the free-agent market.