PHOENIX – Most agree that over the past few decades, economics has ruled professional and college athletics. Television networks tell teams when to play, games are featured in prime time based on ratings and potential ad revenue and players’ identity with fans soar with television exposure.
At the same time, economics can be a burden and detrimental to prevailing options.
Take the case of Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who has put the franchise in a precarious economic predicament. Bumgarner is coming off his worst season in the majors and lack of production has Arizona officials in a quandary. With two years remaining on an original 5-year deal worth a reported $85 million, the Diamondbacks owe Bumgarner $23 million for 2023 and another $14 million for 2024.
To deal with the economics, there is a common belief that many teams simply do not want to carry the burden of a pitcher in the twilight of his career, has not had a winning season since 2016, and carries a significant financial burden.
Several question Bumgarner’s trading value, and argue that his overall ability has declined significantly.
The question is assessment and whether Bumgarner can recover from a disastrous 2022 season. In 30 starts, he went 7-15 with a 4.88 ERA. During August and September, his ERA was 9.23 and started his final game of the season at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 21. Between July 29 and that final start, Bumgarner went 1-6 with three no-decisions and his last victory of the season at Chase Field was a 7-2 win over Washington on July 23.
“Not thinking how to turn around things in the off-season, but just trying to figure things out now,” Bumgarner said after his last Chase Field start on Sept. 17. “Not thinking about the off-season, but to get things going in the right direction. What I do over the last few games will not affect what I do going into the winter. To prepare for next year, I’ll just do what I think is best, but it would be nice to do better. It’s a very frustrating game. I’ve thrown worse games this year and had far better results.”
In his final sessions with the media at Chase, Bumgarner constantly said,” I don’t know and I don’t have much for you today.”
From a performance standpoint, Bumgarner has lost velocity on his fastball and location of his pitches is marginal. As a result, he surrendered 25 home runs in 2022 and that was the third most in his career. In 2016, Bumgarner gave up 26 and a career-high 30 in 2019.
All of which leaves Arizona officials wondering about his future. With younger pitchers pushing for innings and general manager Mike Hazen and field manager Torey Lovullo likely to lobby for the younger arms of Tommy Henry, Drey Jamison and Ryne Nelson to complement the strong 2022 seasons for Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen, Bumgarner’s future in the desert remains uncertain.
“I want Bumgarner to be one of our five starters coming out of spring training next year,” Lovullo said. “It’s competitive, it’s very competitive. I think competitiveness replaces compliancy. I want guys to come in ready to go. (Bumgardner) had a very challenging year and he has big shoulders. He will figure some things out. I can’t say what will happen in spring training. But, I want Bum to one of the five.”