The last time Madison Bumgarner made a full season worth of starts was three years ago in 2016. That season, he threw 226 2/3 innings and led the league with 912 batters faced before pitching a complete-game shutout of the Mets in the National League Wild-Card Game. After adding to his historic postseason resume, the eventual champion Cubs beat him up for three runs and eight baserunners over five innings in the NLDS.
“Three years ago” is a long time in baseball. When you think about the Yankees, three years ago today, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were still on the team, the Yankees had given opportunities for playing time to Dustin Ackley and Ike Davis, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova were in the rotation and Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge had yet to be called up for good. A lot changes over the course of three calendar years in baseball.
Bumgarner is no longer the pitcher he once was, and the pitcher who made four straight All-Star Games from 2013-16, making 31-plus starts per season, pitching to a 2.86 ERA, striking out 9.4 batters and allowing 7.3 hits per nine innings. He’s still good, even very good, and at times dominant, though it’s not a given every time he takes the mound the way it was. But 1,750 career regular-season innings and 102 1/3 career postseason innings will do that to an arm, especially one that reaches the majors at the age of 19.
I believe Bumgarner is better than he’s pitched on the awful, crappy, losing Giants teams he’s been a part of since 2017. Since 2017, the Giants have lost 98 games, 89 games and are on pace to lose 87 games this season. Progress! They are buried in the NL East where they are 17 1/2 games back, and while they are only 5 1/2 games back of the second wild card in the NL, there are seven teams ahead of them and the only teams behind them are the Mets and Marlins. The Giants aren’t going anywhere this season, and in a division with the Dodgers, competitive Diamondbacks and Rockies, and on-the-rise Padres, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Bumgarner is an impending free agent and has been the face of the Giants and a member of three championship teams. If I were a Giants fan, I wouldn’t want the team to trade him, and because of what he’s meant to the organization, he belongs in a Giants uniform for his entire career. But I’m not a Giants fan. I’m a Yankees fan. And I don’t care what Bumgarner has done for the Giants and it won’t bother me if he loses the only uniform he has ever known for the pinstripes.
I don’t care about money owed or years of control remaining. The Yankees haven’t won the World Series in going on 10 years and haven’t even been to it in that amount of time either. They have had several opportunities since their last championship to return to the World Series, and each time they failed to make the move to put them over the top.
The Yankees held on to Eduardo Nunez when they could have had Cliff Lee in 2010, only to release Nunez at the end of spring training four seasons later, and Lee proved to be the difference in the ALCS, shutting the Yankees down in Game 3. In 2017, they chose not to take on Justin Verlander’s contract in a straight salary dump from the Tigers and he went to Houston and beat the Yankees in Games 2 and 6 of the ALCS, single-handedly winning the series for the Astros. In 2018, a year after coming within one win of the World Series, the organization cut payroll by $50 million, only to then not go on the expected free-agent spending spree everyone had been anticipating they would for at least three years.
Nothing is guaranteed in this game. No one thought the Yankees would be without Luis Severino and Dellin Betances all season, lose Miguel Andujar for the year, get only nine games from Giancarlo Stanton in the first half, have Aaron Hicks miss the first two months, lose Aaron Judge for two months, be without Didi Gregorius for the first third of the season, and watch Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, James Paxton, CC Sabathia, Domingo German and Clint Frazier all spend time on the injured list at some point. No one thought the Yankees could compete with a replacement lineup for the first six weeks and with players like Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Cameron Maybin and Kendrys Morales getting regular at-bats. Somehow, the Yankees have overcome every bit of adversity they have been faced with, including poor lineup and in-game decisions from their own manager (come on, I had to throw that in there), and have built a comfortable lead in the division, one in which it would take a catastrophic collapse to blow. But that doesn’t mean the Yankees would have the same season next season if this many injuries cropped up and it doesn’t mean they will have the same season next season if not a single player landed on the injured list all year. This level of success can’t be counted on from season to season.
The Yankees could win the World Series with their current roster the same way they could have won the World Series with their rosters in 2017 and 2018. But they didn’t in those seasons, and right now, there’s nothing separating them from the rest of the contenders. Unless Severino returns this season and is his usual self, there’s no potential postseason series in which the Yankees will have the better starting pitching. And if Severino doesn’t return, who’s going to start in the postseason? Sure, I trust Masahiro Tanaka more than anyone in October, but James Paxton in his first postseason after what’s been a disappointing first half? J.A. Happ after what he’s done since Game 1 of the 2018 ALDS? Domingo German, who will probably be shut down way before the playoffs because of his innings limit? CC Sabathia on the last legs of his 19-year career? An opener? No, no, no, no and no.
The Yankees need a starting pitcher and they’re going to add one, but it needs to be Bumgarner. Marcus Stroman is hurt, Zack Wheeler has impressive metrics but his actual performance has been anything but, and the idea of having to trust Matt Boyd in a short series doesn’t sit well with me. That leaves us with Bumgarner, the only one of the group who has actually has a resume worth trading for.
I realize the Yankees aren’t getting the unhittable World Series hero, who helped the Giants to three championships in five seasons. That’s not to say he won’t see a bump in production and some sort of career rejuvenation with the Yankees, pitching for a first-place team down the stretch and in October. There’s no way to measure how playing for a losing and last-place team for three straight years after having World Series aspirations for the previous seven impacts performance, but it must. It certainly did for Verlander. There’s no sure-thing in the trade market this season, unless Brian Cashman is able to pull off a deal for a pitcher whose name has yet to be mentioned by anyone.
I worry about this Yankees core and this current championship window frequently, fearful that 2017 might have been their best chance to win it all with this group, and they didn’t because they let the Astros take on Verlander’s salary. I pray my worrying is nothing more than me worrying about the Yankees like I always do and that one day I will look back and laugh at how ridiculous I was for thinking a championship might evade this group.
The Yankees need to stop playing the long game which cost them the last two seasons and focus on the season at hand, one in which they are the best team in baseball. Given the available names out there, Bumgarner is the best and most experienced option, and his price tag shouldn’t detract the Yankees.
Over the last decade, the Yankees have cost themselves trips to the World Series and potential championships by overvaluing their prospects and being unwilling to take on salary in July. They can’t do either this July or it could be a third straight missed opportunity at a championship and another year wasted with these Yankees.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!