The Arizona Diamondbacks designated veteran left-hander Madison Bumgarner for assignment on Thursday following his poor start to the season. Barring a surprise trade partner emerging from the mist, the Diamondbacks will soon be obligated to release Bumgarner. At that point, they'll remain on the hook for the $30-plus million left on his contract (which runs through next season) while he'll be free to sign with whichever club will have him.
Bumgarner, 33, used to be regarded as being an above-average starting pitcher. His postseason heroics as a member of the San Francisco Giants even added an additional glean to his whole deal. He failed to make good on the $85 million investment the Diamondbacks made in him: in 69 career starts with Arizona, he compiled a 5.23 ERA, good for an 80 ERA+. In four starts so far this season, he had amassed a 10.26 ERA and more walks than strikeouts.
There are two natural follow-up questions worth examining in light of the news: does Bumgarner have anything left to offer, and which teams could be compelled to check in on him? (Remember, he'll be owed only the prorated league-minimum heading forward.) We here at CBS Sports decided to take a swing at answering both parts. Scroll slowly with us, won't you?
1. What's left in the tank?
Seemingly not much.
When a team takes a look at a struggling pitcher, oftentimes they try to accentuate their strengths and hide their weaknesses. This can take many forms. It might mean encouraging the pitcher to throw their best offering more often. Alternatively, it might mean having the catcher give the universal target so the pitcher doesn't have to worry about locating to the outside corner.
Part of the problem with Bumgarner is he doesn't appear to have a standout pitch to leverage, and he's not controlling what marginal stuff he does.
FanGraphs houses a metric called "Stuff+" that attempts to calculate how good each pitch is and scales it on the 20-80 scouting scale -- 50, in this case, meaning a league-average pitch. None of Bumgarner's pitches this season are sporting a grade of 50 or higher. His cutter, which batters have hit .375 against so far, is his best-performing offering. Otherwise, his fastball grades as well-below average, as does his breaking ball. It's hard to push back against those assertions: his four-seamer was also one of the worst-performing pitches in all of the majors last year, suggesting it is indeed putrid.
While Bumgarner's game has always strayed from convention since it's not based on raw velocity or evading bats (he hasn't struck out even a batter per inning since 2016), it's worth noting that he's bled more velocity this year. To wit, Bumgarner's cutter has clocked in at 86.2 mph so far, or 1.2 mph slower than it averaged last year. His pitches do play faster than they appear on the radar gun because he generates good extension -- he releases the ball six feet, seven inches away from the pitching rubber -- but he's clearly not going to overpower anyone at the big-league level. At this stage in Bumgarner's career, it's all about leveraging his release angle and locating. Unfortunately for him, he's struggled to throw strikes this year. For his career, he's thrown 66% strikes; in his four starts this season, he's sitting at 57% strikes. Ruh roh.
It would be reasonable to wonder if Bumgarner was physically OK based on the combination of his lost velocity and control. The Diamondbacks themselves had the same thought, sending him to Phoenix after his first outing to get examined by team doctors. "Information was kind of coming in slowly and we just thought it'd be the best thing for him to get back to Phoenix where our doctors can get a look at him," manager Torey Lovullo told MLB.com.
Bumgarner received a clean bill of health following an MRI, however, and was allowed to make his last few starts without interruption.
This is where we acknowledge that teams have more information and better data than the public does. The Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, have made a habit out of picking up arms on the waiver-wire or from the proverbial junkpile and getting contributions from them. Maybe a club will see something in its biomechanical analysis, or what have you, that results in a breakthrough. We're skeptical of a miraculous turnaround, though, since even modest improvements would leave Bumgarner with a below-average arsenal.
2. Which teams might check in?
No matter how you feel about Bumgarner or his chances of enjoying a performance uptick, the reality is that he's probably going to get another look. After all, every team thinks they're the one who can turn back the clock for a once-decorated veteran. Factor in his pricepoint -- again, the prorated league-minimum -- as well as him already being stretched out, and it's a fairly low-risk gamble to bring him and tinker with him on the side. If he has a rough outing or two, he can be cut without a second thought.
So, who might bite? Let's recklessly speculate. Keep in mind that this is more of an art than a science. Also, do note that the teams are presented in alphabetical order.
- Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are already without Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes suffered a scare last time out (though it appears he'll be fine). Milwaukee has a history of getting more from arms than the typical team, and all they need to be convinced of is that Bumgarner is better than Colin Rea.
- New York Mets: The Mets could be down four starters if Max Scherzer is suspended after . They're also without Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, and José Quintana because of injuries. The Mets are almost at the point where they just need warm bodies.
- St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals rotation has been a mess to begin the year. They've worked magic in the past, getting more from the likes of Jon Lester and J.A. Happ than anyone expected. Might they be able to do the same with Bumgarner? One presumes they'd sooner just call up Matthew Liberatore.
- Texas Rangers: Why not reunite Bumgarner with Bruce Bochy, the only manager he's ever had success under? Well, you know, besides the Rangers not needing another starting pitcher at this point.
We'll find out soon enough if any of those teams, or one of the unmentioned ones, will give Bumgarner a chance to salvage his career.