There is about a month until Spring Training officially begins in Scottstdale, Ariz. for the San Francisco Giants. And, in many ways, one can say Brian Sabean was quite active this off-season.
He re-signed the guy they traded Tim Alderson for at the July Tradeline, but let go the guy they traded Scott Barnes for. He signed a guy coming off a wrist injury in St. Louis, and another guy who is coming off an atrocious stint in Detroit. (Deja Vu perhaps?) He delayed the era of a promising prospect, but didn't do so at an enormous cost either. (One-year, four-and-a-half million isn't bad for a sub .300 OBP cleanup hitter, right?) He settled before arbritation with a lefty who may be primed for a breakout in 2010, but seems to be headed to court as of this moment with their top ace and closer from a season ago.
Yes, one can say Sabean was indeed active this off-season, but there were two moves that did surprise many Giants fans:
He let Brad Penny go, and didn't sign another starting pitcher this off-season. (As of January 25, 2010.)
Thus, it seems Sabean is confident that highly-heralded left-hander Madison Bumgarner is ready to join the Giants rotation as the fifth starter.
The jury may still be out on whether or not Bumgarner is ready to start in 2010. That being said, he did look good at the MLB level in a September callup last season, even if his fastball wasn't as electric as we all hoped (he averaged 89.2 MPH on his fastball, which tied him with Ryan Sadowski for the fourth-slowest fastball on the team; Sadowski is in Korea by the way).
However, despite his struggles battling arm fatigue (or at least that seems to be the common consensus), Bumgarner still managed to succeed in his cup of coffee with the Giants.
In 10 IP, Bumgarner posted a 1.80 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 3.33 BB/K ratio, which are solid numbers for a someone breaking into the Major Leagues and only 20-years-old. And, even though he didn't seem to have the jump on his fastball at the Major League level like he did in San Jose, Augusta and Connecticut, Bumgarner proved he could mix it up with his nasty slider and still strike guys out, as evidenced by his 9.00 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate.
That being said, while Giants fans have to be comforted by Bumgarner's debut (sans his lack of fastball velocity), there were some unusual signs.
For starters, he had a very low BABIP (.248) and a very high fielding independent pitching in ERA (4.60). Add those two factors along with a 100 percent left on base percentage, and it is easy to see that Bumgarner was very lucky last year, in addition to being a beneficiary of solid defensive play behind him. Does that mean Bumgarner is going to drop dramatically in those categories next year? Not necessarily (though I imagine he probably won't have a 100 percent LOB again).
It definitely will be interesting to see how Bumgarner will respond to an increase in adversity at the Major League level, especially over a 162 game season. After all, Bumgarner only pitched 10 innings as a Giant, and though the stats in those 10 IP are solid, it is still a very small sample.
Of course, regardless of how small a sample it is, and regardless of the fact that he has little experience beyond Double-A (he didn't pitch at all in Fresno last season), the fact of the matter is this:
Bumgarner WILL be the No. 5 pitcher next season.
Why is that?
Well, Bumgarner is the team's best option for the fifth spot on the current 40-man roster. Seriously, it's either him, Joe Martinez or Kevin Pucetas. Who would you rather have? (Don't think about that for more than a second...it's a no brainer).
Therefore, the ballyhooed first round pick of the 2007 draft, the guy that mowed down Juan Pierre and Manny Ramirez in a Spring Training game on April 1, 2009, will not get much time to "develop" in 2010. Unlike Buster Posey, who may start out the year in Fresno to "get more experience" (laugh), Bumgarner will be depended on to contribute right away to this Giants team that has playoff aspirations after barely missing out on the playoffs in 2009. And, to put more pressure on him, the Giants will be forced to stick to him early and often, even if he may struggle out of the gate. Like I said before...Pucetas and Martinez are the backup options if Bumgarner fails or gets hurt. That certainly doesn't make Giants fans sleep any better at night.
Granted, it's not a done deal yet. Who knows what Sabean could pull off in the coming weeks. Maybe he'll sign that fifth starter in free agency (though, with the possibility of perhaps spending $ 21 million in arbritation on Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson, I find it highly unlikely that he'll spend any more cash this off-season). Maybe Bumgarner will be regulated to Fresno to start off the year if the Giants get a guy like Bartolo Colon or Ben Sheets off the scrap-heap for cheap.
Yet for now, the situation is what it is: Bumgarner will round out the rotation and will be expected to pitch big innings for the Giants in 2010.
Let's hope as Giants fans that his arm indeed was just suffering from fatigue last September.