Why the Braves should and should not pursue Madison Bumgarner

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Yesterday, the Braves got a first-hand look at the most prolific postseason pitcher of this generation on the mound. Madison Bumgarner has been a critical cog in three World Series for the Giants, taking home World Series MVP back in 2014. Those are fond memories for residents of the Bay area, but the days of winning are well in the rearview mirror. San Francisco won’t be returning to the playoffs this season, and it might be a while before they do. Meanwhile, Bumgarner is on the last year of his contract, making him the most tantalizing trade piece the Giants have to offer.

The 6’4″ southpaw does have a no-trade clause; however, and a few weeks ago he revealed the eight teams he would be willing to go to. The list was basically comprised of the eight best teams in baseball, which should surprise nobody given Bumgarner’s competitive nature. On that list was the Atlanta Braves, who are the closest team to MadBum’s home town of Hickory, North Carolina.

Rightfully, that should excite Braves fans, and it’s never too early to mull over the possibility of Bumgarner in a Braves uniform.

Pros

The Pros of this deal are relatively obvious. Despite what many might call a decline in Bumgarner’s career, his numbers in 2019 and the past few years are not far off from when the Giants were competing for World Series titles.

In 11 starts this season, he has a 4.10 ERA. However, that doesn’t accurately portray the entire story. He’s been a victim of the long ball, allowing ten already this season. His FIP on the year is a 3.60, which shows he’s been a bit unlucky, and I’m sure he could benefit from a stellar Braves defense behind him. His BB/9 innings is out of this world at 1.7, his WHIP is below 1.2, and he’s striking out over nine batters per nine innings.

A year ago his ERA was 3.26 and the season before that it was 3.32. The real case against him has been injuries over those two seasons. Bumgarner only made 38 starts in the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined. However, as long as he is healthy, his decline has been greatly exaggerated. MadBumb remains an outstanding pitcher, and we know the regular season is not when he’s at his best.

The Braves have a nice one-two punch of Max Fried and Mike Soroka. They could be the top two of most rotations in the league as things stand today, but there is no guarantee both of these young arms continue at this pace. Even if they do, the Braves are going to need a veteran Ace to help them maneuver their way through the playoffs. Bumgarner would undoubtedly excel in that role, and if Foltynewicz finds his 2018 mojo sometime this season, the Braves will enter the playoffs with one of the most potent lineups in baseball and a lockdown starting rotation.

Bumgarner isn’t the only piece the Braves are going to need to win a championship. Atlanta has to find more arms to strengthen their bullpen, but the three-time World Series champion’s presence at the top of the rotation bolsters an already impressive group of starters.

Cons

The cons come in the form of two things – injuries and the return. As I stated in the section above, Bumgarner has been subject to the injury bug over the past two seasons. Although they have been freak incidents (a dirtbike accident and a line drive off of the hand in spring training), the last thing the Braves want to do is give up a few promising prospects, only for MadBum to be sitting on the injured list.

That should go without saying, however. The real test will be prying the Giants ace away from them without giving up too much. While Bumgarner has been fantastic before, there is no guarantee he is going to be the same shutdown pitcher in the playoffs he was in the past. With that said, that is all that teams know out of Bumgarner, and there are going to be several competitors aggressively vying for his services.

Of the teams on MadBum’s list of contenders; the Braves can make the best offer running away. The difficulty in this deal is Atlanta should not be willing to offer their top prospects for a one-year rental. Even if Bumgarner wants to sign an extension with the team, it is not going to come cheap, and it could be a deal the Braves end up regretting. Imagine giving up a couple of top prospects and extending a pitcher on the decline, who winds up injured two of the next three seasons. That’s a quick and easy way to ruin all the progress the Braves have made over this rebuild.

Beyond that, it’s not like the Braves are desperate for starting pitchers. Assuming Folty comes back around; Fried, Soroka, and Foltyynewicz can rival any big three in the National League. Julio Teheran and Kevin Gausman have also proven to be reliable veterans, and it would not be surprising to see Sean Newcomb back in the rotation by season’s end. Not to mention, the Braves have another wave of young arms waiting for their opportunity. They probably don’t even need Bumgarner past this season, so why would they want to give up promising prospects for a four-month rental?

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