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Will the Diamondbacks trade Madison Bumgarner?

Jesse Friedman Avatar
July 28, 2022

Last month, MLB insider Jon Heyman wrote that the Arizona Diamondbacks “would entertain offers” for veteran lefty Madison Bumgarner leading up to the trade deadline on Tuesday.

Should the Diamondbacks make such a move, Bumgarner’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday could be his last in Arizona. Nonetheless, all signs point to the lefty staying put, at least for now.

On the surface, Bumgarner is exactly the type of player a contender would covet. He is a battle-tested veteran with a respectable 3.71 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and a .257 batting average against in 2022. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but they are more than adequate for a team looking to improve the back end of its starting rotation.

Bumgarner also happens to be among the most accomplished postseason pitchers in MLB history, boasting a career 2.11 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and three complete-game shutouts in 16 playoff appearances. In 36 innings in the World Series, Bumgarner has allowed just one run.

Despite what appears to be a bounce-back year in 2022, Bumgarner’s 17.3 percent strikeout rate is actually second-lowest of his career, only surpassing that of his disastrous 2020 campaign. His walk rate of 7.3 percent is also his highest since 2018 and the fourth-highest mark of his career.

Pitching isn’t as simple as strikeouts and walks, but those numbers are not indicative of a pitcher who is likely to maintain an ERA in the threes. This is confirmed by Bumgarner’s  4.79 xERA, 4.49 FIP and 4.70 xFIP — all of which suggest that an ERA around 4.50 or 4.75 is probably more in line with what to expect from Bumgarner moving forward.

That is not to say Bumgarner isn’t a valuable asset. For a team that lacks reliable pitching depth, it’s actually hard to imagine life without Bumgarner for the D-backs. With Zach Davies and Humberto Castellanos on the injured list, the team is already using unproven commodities such as Tyler Gilbert and Corbin Martin in the rotation. 

And heck, even if luck has played a role, Bumgarner’s 4.27 ERA since the start of 2021 is close to league-average for a starting pitcher. Coming off a disastrous first year in Arizona in 2020, that feels like a near-ideal outcome.

Unfortunately, none of that changes the fact that, while Bumgarner has been better of late, he still hasn’t lived up to the five-year, $85 million contract the Diamondbacks gave him in the winter of 2019. Out of 70 starting pitchers who have pitched 250 or more major-league innings since the beginning of 2020, Bumgarner ranks 67th with 1.8 fWAR.

According to FanGraphs’ value metric, Bumgarner’s production since signing with Arizona translates to about $14.3 million of value. That pales in comparison to the roughly $35 million he has earned with the Diamondbacks so far. Although Bumgarner has looked better of late, it’s hard to project much improvement for a guy that turns 33 in a few days and has already thrown more than 2,000 innings in his career.

All this adds up to a veteran player that still has something left to offer but is underperforming his contract. Generally, trading a player in that position requires kicking in cash to make the deal work. The Diamondbacks would likely have to do that to deal Bumgarner.

To get an idea of how much they would have to pay, let’s look at Bumgarner’s fWAR projection (via ZiPS) for the remainder of his contract.

YearfWAR Projection (ZiPS)Value (millions)Salary (millions)
2022 (ROS)0.3$2.4$8.8
Madison Bumgarner fWAR and value projections, 2022-24 (via ZiPS)

Based on ZiPS, the D-backs’ lefty is projected to produce $9.1 million of value for the rest of his deal, which is exactly one-fifth of the remaining money on his contract. Would the Diamondbacks be willing to kick in $36.4 million to deal Bumgarner? The answer is almost certainly no.

Granted, ZiPS’ projection is probably an underestimate, considering that Bumgarner was worth 1.5 fWAR last year and is on pace for around 1.3 fWAR this year. Perhaps he can accumulate 0.5 fWAR the rest of the year, 1.5 fWAR next year and 1.0 fWAR in his age-35 season.

YearProjectionValue (millions)Salary (millions)
2022 (ROS)0.5$4$8.8
Madison Bumgarner fWAR and value projections, 2022-24

Under this projection, Bumgarner would produce a total of 3.0 fWAR, which translates to $24.9 million of value. Unfortunately, that still falls around $20 million shy of the $45.5 million he is owed through 2024. Again, it’s hard to imagine the D-backs paying almost half of the remaining value of his deal, particularly if they aren’t landing much prospect capital in return.

For the Diamondbacks, the goal of trading Bumgarner would be twofold. First, it could create space on the payroll. Second, it could net the Diamondbacks a useful prospect or two who could add depth to the team’s farm system.

Maybe they could accomplish one of those goals, but accomplishing both seems impossible. If the team focuses on clearing payroll space, the deal would essentially amount to a salary dump, where they likely still have to throw in $20 million to get the other side to agree.

If the D-backs try to get real prospect value in return, they are almost definitely going to have to pay more than $20 million of Bumgarner’s remaining salary to make it happen. Even so, teams aren’t likely to relinquish any of their best prospects in exchange for a backend starter.

For a team that actively benefits from Bumgarner’s steady presence in the starting rotation, it’s hard to see how a trade makes sense. For now, all signs point to Bumgarner staying in the desert, where he can continue to work with pitching coach Brent Strom to salvage what’s left of his remarkable pitching career.

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo: Madison Bumgarner pitches against the Rockies at Chase Field (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

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