Cubs free agent focus: Madison Bumgarner

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

If the budget-conscious Cubs look to add a major free agent this winter, signing longtime Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner would be money well spent.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation and could fill it by bringing back Cole Hamels via free agency or replacing him with an internal candidate – i.e. Tyler Chatwood or Adbert Alzolay. However, the opportunity to add a pitcher like Bumgarner – who’s 30 years old and one of the game’s most dominant starters over the last decade – doesn’t come every day.

Bumgarner holds a career 3.13 ERA in 289 games (286 starts) to go along with a solid 8.7 K/9 ratio. He’s made at least 30 starts, pitched 200+ innings and struck out 190+ batters in seven of the past nine seasons. The two exceptions came in 2017 and 2018, though it wasn’t an issue of durability for the left-hander, but two random occurrences.

Bumgarner got into a dirt bike accident in April 2017 and missed three months with bruised ribs and a sprained left shoulder. He then missed the first two months of the 2018 season after a line drive hit him in a spring training game, breaking his hand. He bounced back from those incidents in 2019, tying his career-high in starts made with 34. 

In addition to being durable, Bumgarner is a postseason legend and played a huge role in the Giants winning three World Series in five seasons from 2010-14. He holds a career 2.11 ERA in 16 postseason games, 14 coming as a starter. He willed San Francisco to a title in 2014, posting a ridiculous 1.03 ERA in seven postseason games (six starts). This includes a 0.43 ERA in the Fall Classic, when he made two starts (16 innings) before pitching five shutout innings in relief in a decisive Game 7 win over the Royals.

Yeah, that’ll do.

Bumgarner would be a tremendous addition to any team, and the Cubs are no exception to this. Their rotation has plenty of question marks going forward, as Jon Lester, José Quintana and Chatwood are only under contract through 2020. Lester has a vesting option for 2021 if he hits 200 innings next season, however.

Developing starting pitching has been the Cubs’ Achilles heel under Theo Epstein and Co., so it’s not like the organization has a wave of rotation prospects banging on the big-league doors. Adbert Alzolay flashed his potential in a brief MLB stint in 2019, so there is some hope here, but two starts is far too small of a sample to conclude he’ll be a rotation mainstay.

Bumgarner would help alleviate this issue, also giving the Cubs a formidable rotaton trio for the next several years. This is assuming he, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks continue pitching at the high levels we’re accustomed to seeing.

The Cubs have other needs to address this winter – namely the bullpen, center field and figuring out the second base picture. Their free agent pitching signings have also backfired in recent seasons, at least initially, as Chatwood and Darvish struggled in 2018 and Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched since that July.

Bumgarner’s résumé speaks for itself. If there’s an opportunity for the Cubs to secure his services, it’d pay major dividends.

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Cubs free agent focus: Madison Bumgarner originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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