The Giants Really Didn’t Need a Madison Bumgarner Injury

A quick glance at the contract situation for the best players on the San Francisco Giants might make it appear as though the club is set up for the long haul. Of the Giants’ eight best players by projection this season, seven are locked up through at least 2020, with the eighth signed for two more seasons. Every single player expected to make a significant contribution is signed or under team control for at least two seasons, with Andrew McCutchen representing the only notable exception.

What that quick glance at the Giants’ contract situations might miss, however, is the ages of all of those contributors. With a veteran core, the Giants are very much in win-now mode and losing Madison Bumgarner — who likely won’t return until June after breaking his pinky finger — deals the team a big blow in what might be the team’s last best chance at another playoff run.

Below, you will find the Giants’ best players’ current projections as well as their age this season.

The Giants’ Aging Problem
Name Projected WAR AGE
Buster Posey 4.6 31
Brandon Belt 3.2 30
Brandon Crawford 3.1 31
Jeff Samardzija 3.0 33
Evan Longoria 2.8 32
Joe Panik 2.6 27
Johnny Cueto 2.6 32
Madison Bumgarner 2.3 28
Andrew McCutchen 2.2 31
Mark Melancon 1.5 33
Chris Stratton 1.2 27
Ty Blach 1.0 27

All that red in the age column is not good when it comes to projecting past the 2018 season. Even if we ignore pitching for a moment, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria all project as starters for the 2019 season. Based on what we know about aging generally, we can expect them all to come in to the 2019 season with roughly half-win declines from previous seasons. With those declines plus the loss of Andrew McCutchen, that’s four wins the Giants will be looking to replace on roughly an 82-win team on paper. Factoring in options and arbitration raises, the Giants’ payroll for 2019 is already around $160 million. To bring back a team in 2019 as good as the one they have now, the Giants are going to have to push payroll close to — or perhaps well past — $200 million. The team’s best prospect is an 18-year-old currently outside of the Top-100 prospects in baseball. The Giants’ greatest opportunity to win in perhaps the next half-decade exists this year.

With the Dodgers considered the favorites to win the National League West, the team’s best chance at the playoffs comes in the form of the Wild Card. In what should be a tight race, the loss of the Giants’ ace for any amount of time was going to hurt. The current prognosis for Bumgarner doesn’t look good. After fracturing his hand, Bumgarner underwent surgery, a procedure that included the insertion of pins into his hand. Those pins won’t come out for four to six weeks, at which point he’ll have to (a) strengthen his throwing his hand, then (b) start throwing, and (c) appear in minor-league games before he can return to the majors. Missing one-third of the season seems a reasonable guess.

Losing one player for a couple months generally isn’t a death knell for any team — and that’s true for the Giants and Bumgarner, too — but for those of you interested in panicking, this is what Dan Szymborski had to say.

With Bumgarner healthy, the team is projected for 82 wins, an 8% chance of taking the division, and a 24% chance of capturing a Wild Card spot. Those odds aren’t great, but they also represent the third-highest odds after the division favorites in a league where two teams make the Wild Card. If a few players have better-than-expected seasons or one of the favorites falls back a little, the Giants are right there.

With Bumgarner out for a bit — following the news that Jeff Samardzija will also miss about a month — the Giants’ win total drops down to 81, their division odds move to 6%, and their Wild Card odds decline to 20%. What was once a one-in-three chance at the playoffs is now one-in-four. This is what the playoff picture in the National League looks like in terms of projected win totals and odds for the division and Wild Card.

Playoff Odds After Bumgarner Injury
Cubs 95.7 78.7 % 17.0 % 95.7 % 88.5 %
Dodgers 94.4 84.0 % 9.6 % 93.6 % 89.3 %
Nationals 92.0 78.6 % 10.6 % 89.1 % 84.4 %
Cardinals 87.6 17.9 % 48.8 % 66.7 % 43.6 %
Mets 83.9 18.0 % 26.3 % 44.3 % 30.9 %
Giants 80.8 5.9 % 19.8 % 25.7 % 15.8 %
D-backs 80.7 5.9 % 19.1 % 25.0 % 14.8 %
Rockies 79.2 3.9 % 14.4 % 18.3 % 10.6 %
Brewers 79.0 2.3 % 14.7 % 17.0 % 8.5 %
Phillies 76.0 2.2 % 5.8 % 8.0 % 4.7 %
Pirates 76.2 0.8 % 7.4 % 8.3 % 4.5 %
Braves 73.3 1.2 % 2.6 % 3.8 % 2.4 %
Reds 71.6 0.1 % 2.1 % 2.2 % 0.9 %
Padres 72.1 0.3 % 1.9 % 2.2 % 1.1 %
Marlins 64.3 0.0 % 0.1 % 0.1 % 0.0 %

As Dan says, commence panicking. The Giants still have a good team, but there are a lot more scenarios in which they don’t make the playoffs than ones in which they do. The more mediocre innings pitched by Derek Holland and Tyler Beede at the expense of Madison Bumgarner, the tighter the race for the playoffs becomes. Derek Holland is coming off a season during which he walked 12% of batters and struck out just 17% for the Chicago White Sox. He hasn’t been good since 2013, and his fastball averaged 95 mph then compared to 92 mph last season. Tyler Beede had a good 2016 season in Double-A, but a 5.02 FIP in Triple-A last year represented a step back. He had a rough go of it in his first promotion to Double-A before performing well there his second time through, but that really only provides some encouragement for Triple-A this season. His track record suggests he’s not ready yet.

San Francisco is in a tough spot. There are no more reliable free-agent pitchers available. The team could try to explore a trade, but it isn’t clear who might be available right now who would also make sense for the club. They don’t have the prospects to pull off a monster deal, and they’ve been reluctant all offseason to take on payroll that would push them past the competitive-balance tax. The season isn’t over — indeed, my calendar says it hasn’t even started. That said, the Giants made moves this offseason to add Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen after Giancarlo Stanton exercised his no-trade clause. McCutchen and Longoria are moves made for a team expecting to win now, and the rest of the roster looks a lot like those two acquisitions: quality players, but on the wrong side of 30 and likely to decline as time passes. The trades were a positive for the Giants in the attempt to win this season, but the odds of winning just got a bit longer.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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6 years ago

Both the losses were huge for the Giants. That being said, those losses may not be as damaging as they appear.

1) the Giants are able to use a four-man rotation for parts of April, eliminating the fifth starter (aka the worst replacement starter).

2) there is extreme difficulty in projecting prospects. One rumor suggests Tyler Beede will finally get his major league debut. As a first-round draft pick a few years ago, he should have decent upside. ZIPS and Steamer are great projection systems and are down on him, but if it was easy to project prospects… they’d be private and in a front office.

My attempt to provide hope in the face of a dire situation.

6 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

You are right about the 5th starter thing, but it means they are eliminating Derek Holland when they could have eliminated instead both Holland AND Blach (or whoever is now 4th).

6 years ago
Reply to  dl80

Actually they’re not eliminating Holland. The rotation is Blach/Cueto/Holland/Stratton until they need a 5th starter. They’re skipping someone like Tyler Beede or Andrew Suarez.

6 years ago
Reply to  Scott