Could the Indians Get in on the Madison Bumgarner Sweepstakes?

By Louis Addeo-Weiss

It’s no secret that, with new GM Farhan Zaidi at the helm, longtime manager Bruce Bochy in his final season with the Giants, and the team in no place to contend in the NL West, pitcher Madison Bumgarner, a free agent at season’s end, will be a hot commodity at this year’s trade deadline. Here’s why the Cleveland Indians may be the fit no one’s talking about.

Madison Bumgarner is in the final year of a team-friendly 8-year/$58M deal he signed prior to the 2012 season. In that time, Bumgarner has led the Giants to two World Series championships, highlighted by a historic run in the 2014 postseason.

With the Giants seemingly out of contention before June 1st, Bumgarner, who has endeared himself to the fans in his decade-long tenure with the team, is highly likely to be moved before the July 31st Trade Deadline.

Earlier this week, when the Giants left-hander announced his no-trade list, which included teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and Philadelphia Phillies, all teams who look to remain in the playoff chase all season long, one team not included on that list came to mind as a potential fit for Bumgarner.

Meet the Cleveland Indians.

The team, once the consensus best in what can be described as a feeble, but improving American League Central since the meteoric rise of the Twins this season, has been beset by injuries, particularly their starting rotation.

Mike Clevinger, who emerged in 2017, firmly establishing himself in the starting rotation, has missed over a month with what the team called a right upper back strain, and is still expected to miss at least another month before returning. In two starts this season, Clevinger has picked up where he left off last year, posting an ERA of 0, while striking out 22 in just 12 innings.

Two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the team’s bonafide ace, was recently placed on the 10-day IL with a non-displaced fracture of his right ulna bone (forearm), an injury he suffered after taking a 102-mph hit off the bat of the Marlins Brian Anderson. With no timetable for a return, the team has had to rely heavily on veterans Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, and continued development of right-hander Shane Bieber.

A Bumgarner trade would certainly boost their chances at continuing their run of AL Central dominance, and for an organization who hasn’t won a World Series since the days of Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, and Bob Feller in 1948, Bumgarner’s near-immaculate postseason track record may be just what they need to get over that hump.

In 102 postseason innings, Bumgarner has a 2.11 ERA, highlighted by a miniscule 0.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched in the World Series, the most all-time for someone with at least 35 innings in the fall classic. As a 20-year old, Bumgarner threw 8-shutout innings in the penultimate Game 4 of the 2010 series against the Texas Rangers. The Giants would go on to win their first series since 1954, and their first since moving to San Francisco prior to the 1957 season. Bumgarner’s postseason greatness though is best exemplified by his 5-inning save in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. In that series alone, Bumgarner threw 21 innings, allowed just 9 hits, and posted a 0.43 ERA.

The Indians, who, after a crushing defeat against the Cubs in 2016, and a 22-game winning streak the next year, were many people’s pick to win it all in 2017, lost in the Division Series against the New York Yankees. Corey Kluber, who had been the Indians-version of Bumgarner in 2016, posting a 1.85 ERA over 34.1 postseason innings, faltered when allowing 9 runs in 6.1 innings, good enough for a 12.79 ERA in 2017.

To make a Bumgarner trade possible though, the team will need to continue to tread water. Even with the injuries to Clevinger and Kluber, and Kluber’s extensive struggles this year (5.80 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, -0.4 WAR), the team has managed a collective team-ERA of 3.55, good enough for sixth in the majors.

Through 41 games played, the team is currently 22-19, and second in the AL Central, trailing the aforementioned Twins by 4.5 games.

As far as what the Giants could expect back for a Bumgarner trade to Cleveland, it may not be as much as what other teams may offer. According to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects, the team’s highest ranked prospect is Triston McKenzie, who places 37th on the list. This year, McKenzie has yet to appear in a game this due to an upper back injury similar to Clevinger’s. However, when healthy, he has shown an ability to miss bats, with 394 strikeouts across only 329 minor league innings.

With the team who acquires Bumgarner only getting him for the next two months of the regular season and at most, a month in October, the idea of a team shelling out 3 of their 5 best prospects for a pitcher who has shown signs of decline wouldn’t be in a team’s best interest.

Like the pitchers previously mentioned, Bumgarner has been victim to a series of injuries over the past three seasons. A dirt bike inury in April 2017 cost him nearly 3 months, as he didn’t pitch again until July 15th . A fractured pinky during last year’s Spring Training cost him until mid-June. Over the course of those two injury-shortened years, Bumgarner has pitched to a 10-16 record, though with a more respectable 3.29 ERA and 123 ERA+.

Through 9 starts in 2019, Bumgarner has been a league average pitcher, posting a 4.04 ERA, and 100 ERA+, though scouts have been impressed with the increased usage of his fastball. In 2018, Bumgarner used his fastball a mere 34.2-percent of the time, a lot of which may have been attributed to a career low 90.9 average velocity. This year, that rate has normalized at 42-percent, as the velocity is a tick up at 91.5.

Whatever the numbers may say though, given his extensive postseason pedigree, Bumgarner’s services will ensue a bidding war that may border on the likes of Wall Street. Insert him and a healthy Kluber and Clevinger into a rotation that already includes Bauer and Carrassco, and the Indians may soon find themselves in a fight for their first World Championship in over 70-years.

More to come…

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