SAN FRANCISCO -- For a dozen years, Madison Bumgarner has been associated with the Giants, and for most of that time he has served as a face of the franchise and cornerstone on the field. But Bumgarner woke up Thursday morning looking at free agency and an uncertain future.
The 30-year-old will hit an open market that has been unkind to some veterans in recent years, but as free agency approached, Bumgarner was always confident in the case he could present to other organizations. It was bolstered as the Giants sat at home in October.
This was a throwback postseason, one in which a game that increasingly has focused on hard-throwing bullpens took a step back and embraced starting pitching. Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke got the Astros to a Game 7. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin pushed the Nationals to their first title.
If Bumgarner was watching, he surely enjoyed the shift. He has always advocated for strong starting pitching and 200-inning workhorses. His agents surely enjoyed the last month, too. The Nationals and Astros might have helped boost the market for a left-hander who has a history that far exceeds anything that was accomplished this October.
Cole, the star of this free agent class, posted a 1.72 ERA in five October starts and bolstered his reputation as perhaps the best pitcher in the world. But he came 16 innings short of Bumgarner's 52 2/3 inning masterpiece in 2014 while allowing the same number of runs.
Verlander matched Bumgarner's six 2014 starts, but allowed 17 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings. Strasburg made five brilliant starts and came out of the bullpen once, totaling 36 1/3 innings en route to World Series MVP honors. Scherzer also came out of the bullpen once and showed incredible toughness in returning for Game 7, but his innings total in the postseason was just 30. He recorded exactly 15 outs in three of his five starts.
This is not to take away at all from what the Nationals and Astros did. Their rotations carried a heavy load, with the Nationals in particular going with the novel strategy of turning their starters' off days into bullpen days.
But if you're Madison Bumgarner and you're trying to convince teams that $100 million-plus is the right investment, you point to this postseason and then bring up your own.
Bumgarner isn't the same pitcher he was five years ago, but he's still pretty young and still confident in his big game ability, and the passing years have only further solidified that 2014 is something we just won't see again. Every October there are starters who lead the way, but in the five years since the last Giants title, nobody has gotten within 15 innings of what Bumgarner pulled off.