PHOENIX – The news should not be earth-shattering or unexpected.
The Arizona Diamondbacks moved forward from the misery which the 33 year old Madison Bumgarner created and, on Thursday, designated the veteran left-hander for assignment. Effectively, the organization cut all ties and the club has 10 days to engineer a trade. If that is not accomplished, then Bumgarner is a free agent.
In the process, he will earn $23 million this season. With another $14 million owed in 2024, that represents the remainder of the Arizona contract obligation.
To their dismay, the Diamondbacks will swallow this huge financial burden and be left with a marginal decision made in 2019. That’s when Mike Hazen, the club’s general manager, signed Bumgarner for five-year, $85 million and a deal back-ended with starling financial commitments for a club considered “a small market team.”
In the end, the decision was based on productivity. In recent seasons, Bumgarner became a shell of a once dominant career, and his declining abilities developed progressively acute with each passing season.
“This is a very competitive game,” said field manager Torey Lovullo right after the decision regarding Bumgarner was made. “We have to keep moving forward with what we think will help us win baseball games. (Bumgarner) worked as hard as he could but the results were not there.”
Given the encouraging start and the way the club manufactures runs through speed and opportunity, the burden of retaining Bumgarner as a starter was too much to bear.
The difficulty which evolved is as tragic and as it is predictable. Since 2017, the native of North Carolina had not had a winning season in the majors and the one-time, World Series record holder, was in a rapid free-fall and decline.
Whether Bumgarner has anything left in the tank is pure conjecture. The reality remains he is a skeleton of a once-dominant pitcher and whose skills have greatly diminished.
If Bumgarner is to get back on track, some argue he needs to reinvent himself. The goal would be the development of secondary pitches and perfecting a change-up. Not so, said Lovullo, his manager for the past four seasons.
“He doesn’t have to reinvent himself,” Lovullo said. “For Bum, just change pitches in sequence and if he can develop some pitches and land them, any left-handed pitcher that’s throwing in the mid-80s can live a long time in this game. I saw Jamie Moyer pitch into his 40s and almost win a Cy Young award. There is a long list of left-handers who have done that. If he wants to, he has to find it inside of himself to go out there and found a way to get it done.”
In recent years, Bumgarner’s decline was attributed to a loss of velocity on his fastball, poor location, and a reluctance to develop an effective change-up. Going back to his first start in spring training on March 6 in a game against Cleveland, a deterioration in his skill level was evident. Beginning with that first outing in the spring and through the regular season, Bumgarner’s fastball hits only in the upper 80s. In that Cleveland game, he threw three innings and never hit 90 on the radar gun. In a foreshadowing, he allowed three, two runs, walked two, and struck out none.
That pattern has persisted.
In four Arizona starts in 2023, Bumgarner has walked more than he’s fanned. In going 16.2 innings in those starts, he walked 15 and struck out 10 hitters. In his four starts, he was 0-3 with a 10.26 ERA.
“I wish I had some answers,” Bumgarner told the Arizona Republic after his last Diamondbacks outing on April 19 in St. Louis.” Right now, I don’t have any answers for you guys. I wish I did. But I don’t.”
Bumgarner has not had a winning season in the majors since he went 15-9 with the San Francisco Giants in 2016. He did win 18 games in each of the 2014 and 2015 seasons and broke even with a 9-9 mark in 2018. In his four years with Arizona, Bumgarner recorded a record of 15-32 and 5.23 ERA.
A significant factor in the Bumgarner decision was a strong sense of urgency.
The club had little patience for Bumgarner to create a timetable of improvement or turn-around. With Arizona’s strong start to the season and rising confidence to be competitive in a very competitive National League West division, there existed no time for development, education, or evolution into a productive contributor.
“Performance aside, there are several guys we want to take a look at up here and that weighed into the decision,” said Hazen. “Plus, management told me to do what you need to do to win baseball games.
That included cutting ties with Bumgarner and recognizing his value was quite limited. For now, lefty Tommy Henry replaces Bumgarner in the rotation.
On the diamond … The Diamondbacks opened a seven-game home stand Thursday night and dropped a 7-5 decision to the San Diego Padres before 16,734 in Chase Field.
The San Diego win was powered by a pair of two-run doubles, one in the second and the other in the sixth, from Trent Grisham. Xander Bogaerts and Matt Carpenter homered for San Diego and five Arizona hitters, Josh Rojas, Lourdes Gurriel, Christian Walker, Alek Thomas and Geraldo Perdomo, turned into multi-hit games.
Arizona starter Ryne Nelson, who received a no-decision, allowed the pair of doubles to Grisham and also walked three, all of whom ended up scoring.
“Sometimes, they swing through those, too,” Nelson said in reference to the high fastball Grisham hammered to right field in the sixth. “It’s a game of give and take and sometimes they’ll miss those pitches.”
Return of Tatis …the game marked the season debut of Fernando Tatis Jr., who ended a 80-game suspension and had not played for 563 days. His last major league game was Oct. 3, 2021. Last appearing in a major league game on Oct. 3, 2011, he went 0-5 Thursday night but make a running catch crashing into the right field fence in the eighth to rob Rojas of extra bases.
In the San Diego lineup, Tatis led off and will likely be the Padres’ lead-off hitter through the 2023 season.
The home stand continues … on Friday night and game two of the series, look for Zac Gallen (2-1, 3.33), the National League player-of-the-week for April 10-16, taking on righty Seth Lugo (2-0, 2.70). On Saturday, Merrill Kelly (1-2, 2.53) opposes righty Joe Musgrove, making his first star to the season. In the Sunday afternoon finale, it’s Drey Jameson (2-0, 2.25) taking on veteran Yu Darvish (0-2, 3.44). Then, the Kansas City Royals close out the current stand with three.