Madison Bumgarner and the Arizona Diamondbacks: Why It Happened, How It Happened, and What It Means

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner Signs with the Arizona Diamondbacks

When the news broke Sunday night that Madison Bumgarner had signed a five-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks worth $85 million, it surprised most of the baseball world. There had been little to no indication at all that the Diamondbacks were even interested in pursuing Bumgarner. The team’s biggest remaining needs were in right field and either second base or center field, depending on where Ketel Marte plays. There was even talk of trading left-handed starting pitcher Robbie Ray.

Madison Bumgarner
A screenshot of the fan report on Madison Bumgarner that came three days before the Diamondbacks announced his signing. (Screenshot taken Dec 20th and used with permission of the original poster)

Rumors emerged that the Diamondbacks were close to signing Madison Bumgarner. One person, Wyatt Fernandez, said in an Arizona Diamondbacks Fan Group on Facebook that Bumgarner told him that he wanted to play the rest of his career in Arizona. Most fans believed him, but several either mocked him or called him a liar, even though it would have been utterly ridiculous for Fernandez to make it up.

Why It Happened

Madison Bumgarner Loves It in Arizona

At the introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon, Bumgarner said, “I love the Phoenix area. It’s like a second home to me.” He later elaborated, “It’s a beautiful place. A ton of people want to come here and move to this area. For me, it just feels like where I’m supposed to be. I’ve got a lot of friends out here now, over the years. I know a lot of people, so it truly is a second home to me.”

Some rumors had sprung up over the weekend that Bumgarner already has a place in the Phoenix area and keeps his horses there. Later, he dispelled those rumors while talking to a handful of reporters. “No, I don’t actually own a place out here. We’d just rent for Spring Training and stuff. But most years, we’d bring some (horses) out.” While here, he would rent a ranch-type place. “It’s not that hard to find places like that out here – there’s a lot of them. We brought our dogs with us and brought some horses with us, too. Basically, we picked up the small part of our home in North Carolina and then brought it out here.”

However, he and his wife are definitely interested in buying a home in the Valley of the Sun. “I’ve always been interested in owning a place here, so we’re gonna take that pretty seriously and try to find it as soon as possible.”

Madison Bumgarner Is a Good Fit for the Diamondbacks

General manager Mike Hazen said that Bumgarner was “what we felt like we needed at the top of the rotation” because of “his leadership, (and) certainly his track record.” He later added that “we have a young rotation that, as it grows, is going to need a role model whom they’re going to look towards.” Two off-season additions to the Diamondbacks – pitching coach Matt Herges and catcher Stephen Vogt – were with Bumgarner in San Francisco last season as a bullpen coach and catcher, respectively. Hazen said that the two of them said that “he’s one of the toughest competitors that they’ve ever played with or coached. That means a lot to us. I think it’s something that our starting pitchers are going to definitely benefit from.”

Speaking of Herges and Vogt – Bumgarner is “excited to have those guys here. (Matt) Herges is awesome, and (Stephen) Vogt’s awesome. Vogt’s one of the best teammates that I’ve had, just being with him for a year, and I think that Herges is gonna be a really, really good pitching coach.” However, their arrivals in Arizona were merely an added bonus to Bumgarner. They did not have an effect on his decision, “because I knew this was (where) I wanted to be before those decisions were made.”

Madison Bumgarner Wanted to Play for the Diamondbacks

Bumgarner also signed because he liked several traits of the team. For one, he likes the way they play. They are “a team that … plays my brand of baseball – plays the way that I like to play. I’m gonna say does it the right way.” He later elaborated, “They play hard. …They’ve got a bunch of grinders on the team – guys that don’t take any pitch off. They’re a hard-nosed group of guys.”

He also felt they could win. “…they’ve got a really good team (with) a lot of young guys coming up, so I think they’re definitely heading in a really good direction. …I’ve played against this organization for my whole career and see the direction they’re going and the guys that they have here. Not only that, the guys that they have coming through the system, so it’s dang sure exciting to see. I can’t wait to get started and be a part of it and see where we can go. I know where we can go. I just want to help us get there.”

How Madison Bumgarner Could Go to Arizona

The Diamondbacks came into the off-season with about $30 million in payroll space. $5 million went to the combination of Vogt and relief pitcher Junior Guerra. They need a right fielder and whatever position Ketel Marte ends up not playing, either center field or second base. If they were going to sign Bumgarner, they needed to be creative, and Bumgarner’s camp needed to be flexible. The deal announced Sunday night was five years, $85 million, with $15 million of that deferred. That worked out to an average of $14 million per year, meaning that the Diamondbacks would have $11 million left to work with.

However, that wasn’t the structure of the contract. They back-loaded it.

With Bumgarner slated to make $6 million in 2020 instead of the assumed $14 million, that gives the team $19 million to play around with while pursuing the previously mentioned needs. The big jump between 2020 and 2021 will not hurt the team because the disastrous poison pill known as the Yasmany Tomas Contract will be off the books. He is due $17 million this year due to a bad signing made by the previous general manager regime. Consequently, 2021 will be as if the Diamondbacks traded Tomas – a bust if there ever was one – for Bumgarner and only had to increase payroll by $3 million.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today also reported that Bumgarner turned down some nine-figure offers to play for the Diamondbacks. When asked about it, Bumgarner wouldn’t confirm or deny. However, he did say that he “definitely left some money on the table.”

What It Means to Have Madison Bumgarner in Arizona

The Diamondbacks Don’t Have to Trade Robbie Ray

Immediate speculation arose that the Diamondbacks were going to trade left-handed starter Robbie Ray, who is in his last year before free agency. Rumors swirled near the 2019 Trade Deadline that Ray was on his way out. When the Diamondbacks traded Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros, the biggest shock was that it was Greinke and not Ray. Hazen, while not directly saying “We will not trade Robbie Ray,” hinted that they are not looking to move him at all. “We didn’t enter into this agreement thinking that it was gonna precipitate something else.” The Diamondbacks “like the way our rotation’s set up right now. We have some additions to explore with the position player group. Maybe with the bullpen, still, some, but we didn’t necessarily make this in anticipation of anything else.

“We felt like we were adding a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Any team in baseball would be well-served to add a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.” Bumgarner’s back-loaded contract gives credence to the “Ray is staying put” camp.

You Can’t Have Too Much Left-handed Pitching

The National League West has some tough left-handed bats. Five – Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Seager – had an OPS+ greater than 100 in 2019. The smallest wOBA of the five in 2019 was .340 (Seager), but that is still excellent. Four of those five players play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Blackmon playing for the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers have won the National League West seven straight seasons, so they are certainly the team to beat.

Manager Torey Lovullo agrees, and he will like having the additional left-handed arm in the rotation while facing the Dodgers. “If you look at it, you want to knock off the team ahead of you, which is the Dodgers. That’s always our challenge – to be the best team in our division. They’re the reigning NL West champs. They’ve got several left-handed hitters that are very potent. I haven’t got the chance to look at the direct numbers – what Madison does against them – but you like your chances when you have somebody like he and Robbie Ray ready to go and attack them.” Bumgarner gives the Diamondbacks two left-handed starters for sure – Ray being the other – and a possible third if Alex Young continues to start.

Madison Bumgarner Is Not “Too Old”

There has been speculation that Bumgarner is long in the tooth, despite being only 30. The deep postseason runs have put a lot of miles on his arm. The Diamondbacks have signed a veteran left-hander to a huge free-agent deal before, one who was 35. There were pundits who claimed that he was too old, also. That pitcher was Randy Johnson, and he ended up having five of the best seasons of his career while with the Diamondbacks. Granted, as good as Bumgarner is, he’s no Randy Johnson – after all, Johnson is, with apologies to Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax, the best left-hander in league history. But there is, according to Lovullo, a similarity – “They have the same ingredient where they get those big outs and they have that bulldog mentality.”

Lovullo is “not concerned” about Bumgarner’s age. “I watched him last year compete at a very high level, and I know that some things were out of his control. I think he got hit by a line drive a couple of years ago in Spring Training that probably made him play a little uphill baseball to catch up and join the team. But minimal concern from me because I know what’s inside of him to be great.”


The Diamondbacks struck gold with this deal. For them to sign the 2014 World Series MVP while he’s only 30 is big enough. The price they paid made it a steal. While they still have position-player needs to address – and possibly another reliever – this signing narrows the gap with the Dodgers. A team who, last year, exceeded expectations is building for an even more exciting run in 2020. Bumgarner is a fierce competitor who makes his teammates better. Given the young squad the Diamondbacks have, that should pay dividends. With a GM like Hazen, who seems to be playing 3-D chess while other GMs are playing checkers, there certainly must be more on the horizon. And with a manager like Lovullo, who excels at getting the absolute best out of his players, Diamondback fans have a lot to look forward to.