On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Yankees announced Jordan Montgomery would be undergoing Tommy John surgery. On Tuesday evening, Madison Bumgarner made his return to the mound.
According to some Yankees fans and a fair few pot-stirring beat writers, this was the sign needed from the baseball gods that Bumgarner was destined for pinstripes.
Hmm… Yankees scouts in the stands? https://t.co/fUr3oRa1YO
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) June 5, 2018
Except there is an only-slightly-above-zero chance that that happens.
Let’s start with the obvious: Yes, Bumgarner is in many ways a perfect fit for the Yankees. Targeting him is both logical and completely understandable on an emotional level.
The Yankees needed another starter before Montgomery was done for the year, so what was a pressing need has now progressed to something just short of a trash compactor.
Bumgarner is arguably the best pitcher who could even conceivably be available, is the best postseason pitcher in a generation, and is young and cheap if for some bizarre reason that wasn’t already enough.
There’s just one problem — trades require two teams.
The Giants enter Wednesday 30-31 but only 2.5 games back in the NL West, despite having lost three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation to the DL in the first quarter of the season. Joe Panik has spent time on the DL, Hunter Pence is now relegated to a bench role after his own return from the DL, $62M erstwhile closer Mark Melancon has thrown a total of 1 (one) inning, and offseason acquisitions Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria plus hometown favorite Brandon Crawford had to overcome slow starts.
Through all of this, the Giants have somehow kept their heads above water, largely thanks to surprise contributions from rookie starters like Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez and an MVP-caliber start from Brandon Belt.
The Giants plan from the beginning was to hang on until the reinforcements came, and whether it quite counts as Even Year Bullshit or not, they’ve made it through.
That alone makes convincing Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans to part ways with their homegrown ace and postseason legend an order taller than Paul Bunyan, before even touching on the more complicated and painful calculus of beginning the slow dismantling of a dynasty.
Evans’ first and arguably only controversial move as GM was to trade 2015 National League Rookie of the Year runner up Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay for Matt Moore at the deadline in 2016. Despite the move being reasonable, if hard to swallow, at the time, you’d still be hard pressed to find a Giants fan who was in favor of it then or particularly now, with Duffy once again healthy and productive and Moore traded to Texas after a miserable 2017.
The Giants, quite simply, do not trade home grown stars. If anything, they find ways to reacquire old friends, bringing back Travis Ishikawa and Conor Gillaspie just in time for their own postseason hero moments, and even welcoming back prodigal son Pablo Sandoval.
Whether you agree with it as a business strategy or not, the front office and fans simply do not have the stomach for it.
The Giants are the relatively rare franchise where you’re hard pressed to find jerseys in the stands of players who aren’t on the field, and when you do it’s largely either the recently retired or a Hall of Famer who is more than passingly likely to be in the stands himself.
The front office has to be aware of the magnitude of the ask they’d be placing before fans, and while it’s hardly a unique conundrum, the Giants have long seemed more sensitive than most to at least the appearance of loyalty, whether that’s always deserved or not. For good or ill, the organizational ethos is and has been better to hold on a little too long than let go too early.
Now, everything has a cost. Even for the seemingly soft-hearted Giants, at a point it’s a fireable offense to turn down an offer.
So what would it take?
As a starting point, look at what the Astros gave up to acquire Justin Verlander last August. Then potentially scale up for Bumgarner being younger and less expensive, the Yankees’ public desperation to acquire a starter, the Giants still being in contention, and it being far, far before when mid-season trades typically happen.
Sabean and Evans couldn’t sell a trade to their own ownership group, much less fans, unless the return was so patently overwhelming that it was impossible to turn down. Brian Cashman’s ninja-like negotiating skills or not, the cost to pull that off would be beyond what even could argue he was worth.
The Giants have all the leverage in this situation, and there’s a limit to even Cashman’s ability to pull a left handed rabbit out of a hat.
If the Yankees were to acquire Bumgarner, the most likely scenario is next deadline, or possibly next offseason if the Giants stumble mightily down the stretch this year for reasons that won’t resolve themselves naturally (e.g. not because Brandon Belt gets abducted by aliens or befalls some other fate befitting someone with the luck usually reserved for those whose homes are built on ancient burial grounds.)
As a rental at that point, he would be far less costly for the Yankees, and the loss slightly less catastrophically painful for the Giants and their fans.
No, it doesn’t magically solve the Yankees’ problems now, but not much will. They’ve already weathered plenty, literally and figuratively; they will just have to make it to the deadline and go shopping someplace more like the “aging but still definitely helpful” aisle populated by Cole Hamels and friends.
It’s not the sexiest option, but neither is prematurely stripping a former New York neighbor for parts.
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