At the July 31 trade deadline, the Giants made the sensible -- yet risky -- decision to keep franchise icon and impending free agent Madison Bumgarner. San Francisco won 19 times in 25 games that month and climbed to within two games of the second wild card spot. Keeping Bumgarner and going for it in manager Bruce Bochy's final season was reasonable.

The decision has mostly backfired. The Giants are 12-19 since the trade deadline and have fallen to 8 1/2 games behind the second wild card spot. They missed their opportunity to turn Bumgarner into prospects -- the elimination of trade waivers meant they were not able to move him in August once the fade began -- and will now shift gears and focus on his impending free agency.

It's easy to assume the Giants and Bumgarner will work something out to keep him in San Francisco the rest of his career. That is a dangerous assumption though, because as of late July, the two sides had not had any talks about a contract extension.

Right off the bat we can assume the Braves, Phillies, Rangers and Yankees will have interest in Bumgarner. You can't rule out the Astros, Cubs, Nationals or rival Dodgers either. A smaller market contender like the Brewers or Twins could get involved as well. For what it's worth, the Braves have money to spend and are the closest MLB team to Bumgarner's North Carolina home. 

"I've been told by multiple people who know him a lot better than I know him who say he wants to sign back home – and 'back home' is Atlanta,"'s Jon Morosi said during a recent radio interview. "In terms of being as close to home as he can be -- that is where he would love to be and you consider (the Braves are) going to be a very good team."

Of course, coming into the season Bumgarner was a bit of a mystery. Fluke injuries derailed his 2017-18 seasons -- Bumgarner hurt his shoulder falling off a dirt bike in 2017 and had a comebacker break his finger in spring training 2018 -- which were filled with red flags. Declining velocity, declining strikeout rate, declining swing-and-miss rate, increasing hard contact allowed.

Two and a half months into 2019, Bumgarner appeared to be in decline. He was sitting on a 4.28 ERA on June 20 and opponents had hit .267/.313/.450 against him. His 23.0 percent strikeout rate was about league average, but well below the 27.0 percent rate he managed at his peak. With all those innings on his arm, it appeared Bumgarner was declining early a la Felix Hernandez.

Instead, Bumgarner has been a revelation the last two and a half months. He went into Wednesday night's start having thrown 80 innings with a 2.81 ERA and a 27.5 percent strikeout rate in his previous 13 starts. Opponents hit .204/.249/.351 against him and he went at least seven innings seven times. Bumgarner's velocity is up and, not coincidentally, so is his swinging strike rate:

Madison Bumgarner's velocity has bounced back this year and so has his ability to miss bats. FanGraphs

This could simply be a case of a guy getting healthy. Bumgarner suffered a shoulder injury two years ago, and while he didn't need surgery and was declared healthy long ago, those things can linger. It can take some time for a pitcher to get back to normal. Add in the finger injury that disrupted last year, and well, it might've taken Bumgarner longer than expected to get over the shoulder issue.

Either way, there has been clear and substantial improvement in Bumgarner's performance these last two and a half months, both in the surface stats and underlying data. There are two concerns with him at this point:

  • 43.2 percent hard contact allowed rate, one of the highest in baseball.
  • Heavy workload at a young age (nearly 2,000 big league innings and he turned 30 last month).

Patrick Corbin had the second highest hard contact rate allowed in baseball last season (41.9 percent) and that was hardly a deal-breaker in free agency. I suspect the same will be true with Bumgarner. Teams have better information than what is publicly available and better understand why a pitcher's hard contact rate is up, the ramifications, and maybe even how they can fix it.

The second point is a legitimate concern. Bumgarner has thrown a ton of innings in his career and that takes a toll. Aside from the shoulder injury two years ago, which was the result of a fluky dirt bike accident, his arm has been healthy. That said, the shoulder injury happened, and it could lead to further issues down the road. The best predictor of future injury is past injury.

At the same time, Bumgarner brings so much to the table. He remains a high quality southpaw who is in his prime years, and he's proven he can thrive in any situation. It's been five years now since Bumgarner carried the Giants to the 2014 championship, but it still resonates. There's something to be said for knowing a guy won't crack under any sort of pressure.

In a good but not great free agent class, Bumgarner has solidified himself as one of the best players available, and his second half resurgence has put him in position to cash in nicely. Jon Lester's six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs is an appropriate starting point for negotiations. The current free agent climate might force him to take less, but that's a great contract for a pitcher who seemed to be in decline just a few weeks ago.

The upcoming free agent class thinned out considerably earlier this year, when teams and players went on that extension frenzy during spring training and early in the regular season. Eleven would-be free agents signed long-term rather than test the market this winter. Here are those 11 players, listed in order or salary guarantee:

Here are our 2019-20 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings for August. Now that we are entering the regular season's final month, it's time to check in again on the upcoming free agent class. Here are our 2019-20 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings for September.

2019-20 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings: September
Gerrit Cole Houston Astros SP

No change at the top and why would there be? Astros righty Gerrit Cole will be the best starting pitcher to hit free agency since Max Scherzer five years ago, and he's in line for a Scherzer-esque contract. That means seven years and north of $30 million per year. David Price holds the record for largest contract among pitchers ($217 million) and Zack Greinke holds the record for largest average salary among all players ($34.4 million). I could see Cole breaking both records.

Qualifying Offer? No doubt

Previous Rank: 1

Anthony Rendon Washington Nationals 3B

With all due respect to Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, it should be a three-man race for NL MVP. Anthony Rendon has been that good this year. The Nationals star third baseman is one of the best all-around players in the game and he turned only 29 in June, so he's right smack in his prime. Can Washington really let Bryce Harper and Rendon go in back-to-back offseasons? Arenado's $260 million extension is the benchmark for Rendon and agent Scott Boras. I think he might have to settle for less, but he should still get north of $30 million annually across five or more years.

Qualifying Offer? Absolutely

Previous Rank: 2

Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP

While I would say a return to the Giants is the most likely outcome, I don't think it's a lock, especially since the Giants seem to be looking at another lean year or two before returning to contention. Bumgarner may not be down with that. The Lester contract noted earlier makes sense, but keep in mind Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had a long history with Lester from their Red Sox days. No team other than the Giants can say that about Bumgarner. That might hold back his earning potential somewhat.

Qualifying Offer? Yep

Previous Rank: 3

Zack Wheeler New York Mets SP

Similar to Bumgarner, Mets righty Zack Wheeler has turned his season around the last few months. He's pitched to a 3.52 ERA in his last 12 starts and his stuff remains high-end. Wheeler has some of the highest average velocities and spin rates in the game. The injury history is scary -- he missed time with a shoulder issue right before the trade deadline, remember -- but Wheeler is only 29 and offers considerable upside. Analytically inclined teams will have heavy interest. Nathan Eovaldi's four-year, $68 million deal with the Red Sox has been my go-to contract benchmark for Wheeler given the similarities in their stuff and injury histories.

Qualifying offer? Yes. Accepting it is a real possibility

Previous Rank: 4

Hyun-Jin Ryu Los Angeles Dodgers SP

If I had to bet on one free agent re-signing with their current team, it would be Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers. It is a perfect fit. Ryu has struggled a bit lately, though the overall results are outstanding, and he pitches with the kind of veteran savvy and fearlessness that should allow him to age gracefully. The injury concerns are very real given his history, but, these days, teams will take 130 elite innings over 200 average innings. Ryu will be 33 on Opening Day 2020 and a high dollar two-year deal ($40 million?) or a slightly lower dollar three-year deal ($45 million?) could work.

Qualifying Offer? Not eligible (received and accepted it last offseason)

Previous Rank: 5

Yasmani Grandal Milwaukee Brewers C

I am going to continue to die on the Yasmani Grandal hill. The Brewers backstop is a switch-hitter with 20-plus homer power, excellent on-base skills, and outstanding pitch-framing. He's one of the best catchers in the game and he'll turn 31 in November, so Grandal should have a few more strong years ahead of him. A Russell Martin contract (five years and $82 million) isn't happening in this market. Grandal should be able to secure three years at $15 million per season, however, especially with no draft pick compensation attached this time around.

Qualifying Offer? Not eligible (received it last offseason)

Previous Rank: 7

Will Smith San Francisco Giants RP

Bumgarner is not the only veteran lefty the Giants kept at the trade deadline. They also held on to closer Will Smith, who is easily the best available reliever in a thin bullpen market. He's been a workhorse high-strikeout, high-leverage reliever since returning from Tommy John surgery two years ago, and he turned only 30 last month, so Smith has peak years remaining. Adam Ottavino's three-year, $27 million contract is a good starting point, though Smith has a case for more ($11 million annually?) seeing how he's heading into free agency with two elite years after elbow reconstruction rather than one like Ottavino.

Qualifying Offer? Yes. This might be Smith's only shot at a big free agent payday, so I doubt he accepts

Previous Rank: 6

Josh Donaldson Atlanta Braves 3B

Over the last two months and change Josh Donaldson has performed like the MVP candidate we saw in Toronto. He's smashed 26 home runs in his last 74 games with an on-base percentage right at .400. Add in solid defense and good health and you have a player who has capitalized greatly on his one-year "prove yourself" contract. Donaldson turns 34 in December, so his age will work against him in free agency, but something like two years and $50 million could be awfully appealing to teams that miss out on Rendon and don't want to commit to a long-term deal.

Qualify Offer? For sure. Accepting would mean a pay cut for Donaldson, so don't bet on it happening

Previous Rank: Unranked

Marcell Ozuna St. Louis Cardinals LF

A fluke finger injury -- he broke a finger diving back into first base -- kept Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna out the entire month of July, otherwise he would be over 30 homers by now. Ozuna doesn't contribute much defensively and he's never really been a high on-base player, but the power is very real, and he turns only 29 in November. A prime-aged power hitter will always get paid in free agency. Four years at $15 million per season is a reasonable expectation for the Scott Boras client.

Qualifying Offer? Yes. Ozuna won't accept

Previous Rank: 10


What a difference a few months make. The trade to the Cubs has revitalized Nicholas Castellanos, who had previously established himself as one of the best young hitters in the game with the Tigers. The defense is never going to stand out, but Castellanos could always hit, and now he's making a huge impression with a contending team in a postseason race. That matters. Also, he will turn only 28 -- yes, 28 -- in spring training next year. Age and pure hitting ability make Castellanos a sneak great free agent target. He is yet another Scott Boras client and four or five years at $15 million annually is in the cards, maybe even with the Cubs.

Qualifying Offer? Not eligible (traded during the season)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Next Five (alphabetically): Didi Gregorius, Yankees; Cole Hamels, Cubs; Dallas Keuchel, Braves; Jake Odorizzi, Twins; Yasiel Puig, Indians.

Contract Options: For the purposes of these rankings we are assuming Chris Archer, Pirates ($9 million); Nelson Cruz, Twins ($12 million); Sean Doolittle, Nationals ($6.5 million); Corey Kluber, Indians ($17.5 million); Starling Marte, Pirates ($11.5 million); Jose Quintana, Cubs ($11.5 million); and Anthony Rizzo, Cubs ($14.5 million) will have their club options exercised. Also, we are assuming Elvis Andrus, Rangers (three years, $43 million); Jake Arrieta, Phillies (one year, $20 million); Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (two years, $30 million); Yu Darvish, Cubs (four years, $81 million); Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (two years, $38 million); J.D. Martinez (three years, $62.5 million); and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (four years, $100 million) will not opt out of their contracts.