The LA Angels need pitching this winter. You’re going to hear this everywhere you go for the next month or so. Every sports journalist and TV talking head will tell you that the Angels need to, and likely will, go all in on pitching in the coming weeks.
This LA Angels team is beyond a “one-signing” solution and will need to sign more than one top-end pitcher to properly balance out the rotation. As much as we’d all love to bring dreamland into reality it’s extremely unlikely that the Angels will be able to sign a tandem of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg due to the massive chunk of payroll that would eat up, likely near the $500 million mark. The Angels are in the market for two top-end pitchers at least, but it’s very obvious the Angels won’t be able to afford two big dogs.
The Angels are going to have to get somewhat creative and find a suitable starter than can pitch with top-end talent and act as a leader to a squad of promising young prospects without crippling their future payroll. This is where ex-Giants and current free agent pitcher Madison Bumgarner comes into play, especially with FA pitcher Zach Wheeler agreeing with the Phillies on a 5-year deal with $118 million.
Simply put, there is no better #2 option than the 30-year old Madison Bumgarner, both in terms of potential costs saved in signing an ace-level pitcher after a handful of iffy seasons It’s very clear that Bumgarner is a 2nd-tier free agent and will likely be paid as such. Given the massive discount the Angels could pull in by signing Bumgarner after a year which saw him pitch to a 3.90 ERA across 207.2 IP there is no real reason why they shouldn’t aggressively pursue Bumgarner.
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Here’s the skinny on Bumgarner, at the age of 30 we’ve seen the extremely talented and hard-nosed ace pitch to four total All-Star appearances, between the ages of 23-26, in that time winning two Silver Sluggers while maintaining an ERA that floated under 3 while managing an average of 215 IP during that span. Aside from Bumgarner’s 2017-2018 seasons in which he pitched 111 IP and 129.2 IP respectively, he’s only had three seasons in which he’s posted a sub-200 IP count (with minimum 100 IP).
I understand there are concerns regarding his future durability given his previous workload, but as Bumgarner has shown in 2019 there is more than enough room for him to work a bounce-back season in 2020. Bumgarner was able to aptly return to his usual workload with a 207.2 IP season with the Giants while holding down a 3.90 ERA alongside an K/9 rate that saw significant improvement from 2018’s 7.6 K/9 to 2019’s 8.8 K/9. On top of that he sliced his BB/9 rate in half in 2019 (1.9 BB/9) after posting a 3.0 BB/9 in 2018. If there’s one thing the Angels desperately need it’s a starter who won’t be walking multiple hitters inning after inning, a plague which devastated the Angels starting staff in 2019.
The lowest BB/9 rate out of any Angels starter was Andrew Heaney’s 2.8 BB/9, which came in tandem with his 11.1 K/9 rate, the highest on the Angels 2019 squad. Even then Heaney could not eclipse 100 IP, topping out at 95.1 on the year; in fact the highest IP total on the Angels squad in 2019 came from Trevor Cahill and his 5.98 ERA across 102.1 IP.
Just based off the simple fact that Madison Bumgarner can pitch up to 200 innings for the Angels in 2020 (and beyond) you would think that this is an open and shut debate. Bumgarner would have blown away every starter on the Angels staff last year and been the ace of the squad with his 3.90 ERA across 207.2 IP, but what makes the case of Bumgarner so interesting is the Angels would not need Bumgarner to act as their ace.
With the Angels lined up to compete until the end for superstar pitcher Gerrit Cole’s services and the young phenom Shohei Ohtani looking to grace the roster in 2020 all the Angels need is a solid middle of the rotation bulldog to anchor the balance of the staff. Madison Bumgarner could do more than just balance out the rotation; on a comeback year he can rank Top 10 in Cy Young voting and on a down year he can offer the Angels anywhere from 150-180 innings alongside a low-mid 4 ERA. Either way you put it this is an improvement without question for the Angels starting staff.
Of course this now goes into the potential salary for Madison Bumgarner, no one wants to see him command a Tier-1 contract in FA because that would explode his value beyond a reasonable asking price. As a second-tier starting pitcher who is coming off a down year at the age of 30 it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see Bumgarner command a 4-5 year 100-125 million dollar contract. Is paying Bumgarner up to 25 million a year a worthwhile contract however? Obviously we can’t predict that now, but if you look at the deal in terms of costs saved it doesn’t look like a bad deal at all. Since the Angels won’t be paying Shohei Ohtani a kingly sum for a few years now would be the time to strike for pitching talent while it is available, especially if you can guarantee a 1-2-3 of Gerrit Cole-Shohei Ohtani-Madison Bumgarner.
Aren’t you tired of watching the Angels trot pitchers who have no edge or fire on the mound? The Angels have a couple of starters who can spark a flame every now and then, but they don’t really have any talent that can gas it up on command. Madison Bumgarner is one of the very few pitchers in baseball you could consider a classic bulldog akin to the pre 2000’s era of baseball.
Bumgarner is a throwback to the days of the blue collar, extremely competitive and emotional fireball starter we haven’t seen on this staff since Jered Weaver. Madison Bumgarner checks off all the boxes of needs for the Angels except for maybe being a year or two older than we’d prefer. Regardless the Angels can still work at least 2 or 3 years of pitching that can range from suitable to stellar before Bumgarner hits his mid-30s wall.
With the intense talent growing in the Angels farm system they really only need about 3 years for their crop of talent to blossom into MLB-ready prospects. Given that Bumgarner can offer a consistent and possibly over-achieving middle of the rotation presence there is no real reason he shouldn’t be on the Angels squad come 2020 and beyond.