Giants lock up Madison Bumgarner with long-term deal

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Two weeks after handing Matt Cain a five-year, $121.5 million contract extension the Giants have locked up Madison Bumgarner long term as well, signing the 22-year-old left-hander to a five-year deal with team options for 2018 and 2019. According to his agents the contract is worth $35 million in guaranteed money.

In terms of service time Cain and Bumgarner are much different, as Cain would have been eligible for free agency after this season and Bumgarner isn’t even arbitration eligible yet.

San Francisco already had Bumgarner under team control through 2016, so this deal simply pre-pays for his three arbitration seasons and buys out his first year of free agency while giving the Giants an opportunity to keep him off the open market for two additional years. If they exercise both options he won’t be a free agent until 2020, at age 30.

As with any long-term commitment to a 22-year-old pitcher there’s lots of risk involved, but Bumgarner was considered an elite prospect in the minors and has already established himself as one of baseball’s best left-handed starters with a 3.12 ERA and 292/79 K/BB ratio in 337 career innings.

Now that the Giants control Cain through 2018 and Bumgarner through 2019 they may not feel as much pressure to break the bank for Tim Lincecum, who has another year and $22 million left on his deal, although certainly no amount of top-notch young rotation depth makes losing a two-time Cy Young winner to free agency before age 30 any easier.

Zack Greinke understands that “the opener” isn’t just about in-game strategy

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Over the weekend, Craig was among those cited as having criticized the Rays by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Craig wrote about it in Sunday’s And That Happened. Many of the responses from Rays fans to him on Twitter, at least most of what I saw, conflated distaste for ownership’s penny-pinching for a belief that the team is bad. Indeed, the Rays enter Tuesday’s action 64-61 and their position above .500 has something to do with “the opener” strategy, which is when they have a reliever like Sergio Romo start the game before handing the ball off to an actual starter after an inning or two. Other teams, like the Twins, have taken notice of “the opener” and have begun experimenting with it.

On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller published a lengthy column discussing how recent changes to the game of baseball have made it a worse product. He quotes a lot of old-timers, which I discussed yesterday. Miller also quoted Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke on the subject of “the opener.” While quotes from the likes of Goose Gossage and Pete Rose were a bit more eye-popping, Greinke’s thoughts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Greinke said:

It’s really smart, but it’s also really bad for baseball. It’s just a sideshow. There’s always ways to get a little advantage, but the main problem I have with it is you do it that way, then you’ll end up never paying any player what he’s worth because you’re not going to have guys starting, you’re not going to have guys throwing innings.

You just keep shuffling guys in and out constantly so nobody will ever get paid. Someone’s going to make the money, either the owners or the players. You keep doing it that way, the players won’t make any money.

Back in May, I wrote about how the overarching concept of “bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue in baseball. Greinke touched on exactly those points. An elite starter makes significantly more money than an elite reliever. Compare contracts signed by David Price (seven years, $217 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) to the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), which is currently the most lucrative contract signed by a reliever. It wouldn’t crack the top-85 contracts in baseball.

A starter’s number of starts and his innings pitched total are both cited in arbitration filings and contract negotiations. A pitcher who made 33 starts in a season will have more leverage than a pitcher made only 15 starts. Meanwhile, Romo and Ryne Stanek‘s innings totals aren’t much different than a normal year of relief. Thus, if you’re Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander, spreading the number of starts (and innings) between the “rotation” and bullpen will reduce the cost of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible starters. The owners save this money and pocket it instead of reinvesting it into the team. Then they’ll turn around, cry poor, and ask residents of Tampa to foot the billion-dollar bill for a new stadium in Ybor City, roughly 25 minutes from their current digs.

Greinke is right and we should pay attention to what he’s saying. While “the opener” has some strategic merit, particularly for teams with less-than-complete starting rotations, it also conveniently helps save money for stingy and exploitative front offices. We’ve already accepted that a third of the league gave up on the season before it began. Let’s not accept that teams can give up on their pitching staffs as well.