DENVER – Madison Bumgarner probably has some scraped skin along with his bruised ribs and sprained left shoulder after wiping out on a dirt bike Thursday. His pride is most definitely wounded, too.
And this season for the Giants could become as painful as road rash.
Let’s try to address some questions, knowing there is plenty in this dust cloud that hasn’t settled yet:
How long will Bumgarner be out?
The short answer is we don’t know. The more nuanced answer: we don’t know, but we can hazard a pretty good guess.
Bumgarner was diagnosed with bruised ribs and a Grade 1 or 2 sprain of the AC joint in his shoulder. Some national baseball reporters have cited sources or industry chatter as saying Bumgarner will miss six to eight weeks, or two months.
There won’t be any clarity here until Bumgarner returns to San Francisco on Monday and gets a full examination, though.
Take this for what it’s worth, since I’m no orthopedist, but there’s a big difference between stretched ligaments (Grade 1), partial tears (Grade 2) and full tears (Grade 😬). Will Bumgarner require surgery? But that hasn’t been ruled out yet.
It is dangerous to speculate in an absence of facts. Take this for what it is, then: I would imagine that Bumgarner’s best-case scenario is to return shortly after the All-Star break. If your expectations are any brighter than that, you’ll probably be disappointed.
In the meantime, the Giants said Ty Blach would start Tuesday against the Dodgers but he also was used in relief with the team trailing Tuesday night. Blach was supposed to throw a lengthy side session Saturday to build his pitch count. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to do that before starting.
It’s possible the Giants could change their minds and call up Tyler Beede, who was already starting on Bumgarner’s day at Triple-A Sacramento. Either way, I would expect Beede to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Why was Bumgarner riding a dirt bike on a day off? Isn’t that contractually forbidden?
The short answer is yes. The more nuanced answer: also yes, but it depends on who the player is, what he’s accomplished, how much money he’s making and how permissive his coaching staff and organization are about these things.
As Dave Righetti said Friday, “Off days are the friggin’ worst. For all of us. It’s part of the game. We don’t get many and when we do, guys tend to want to go do the things they’re missing out on. So things like this do happen, unfortunately.”
And if you are shaking a fist at your screen right now, I also hope you are not wearing a “Let Timmy Smoke” or “Let Zito Surf” T-shirt. (Or “Let Affeldt … Do Anything.”)
The Collective Bargaining Agreement spells out an agreement between players and teams that “the player’s participation in certain other sports may impair or destroy his ability and skill as a baseball player.”
Forbidden activities listed in the CBA include professional boxing or wrestling. With the exception of written consent from the club, players are prohibited from skiing, auto racing, motorcycle racing or skydiving. Players also agree not to engage in soccer, basketball, ice hockey “or any other sport involving a substantial risk of personal injury.”
Some teams, such as the Chicago Cubs, tack on contract language specifying a range of other activities that are expressly forbidden. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, while , recalled that cave exploration wasn’t in the cards for him.
“In my contract (as a player), there was no spelunking,” Roberts told reporters. “So I stayed away from the spelunking. I never spelunked. I contemplated it. But per my contract, I couldn’t go spelunking.”
Whether the Giants have additional language in their contracts or not, the nebulous wording of “any other sport involving a substantial risk of personal injury” in the CBA could encompass almost any leisure activity.
Besides, there is precedent with dirt bike injuries. In 1994, the Atlanta Braves voided outfielder Ron Gant’s contract after he sustained a serious leg fracture when he was injured in a dirt bike accident.
Will the Giants seek to dock Bumgarner’s pay, or void his contract?
The short answer is no. The more nuanced answer: also no, but it depends on who the player is, what he’s accomplished, how much money he’s making and how permissive his coaching staff and organization are about these things.
Giants GM Bobby Evans, asked about Bumgarner’s contract language, said via text that he was “not focused on that. Our medical staff’s attention to Madison’s health and our staff preparing for the Rockies series is the focus. (We’re) counting our blessings that he will be OK.”
Based on what everyone is saying about the severity of the crash, all things considered, Bumgarner might have gotten very, very, very lucky. And the Giants appear ready to move on.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he didn’t even have to give Bumgarner a reprimand, because the left-hander expressed remorse and responsibility for his actions.
Bumgarner’s accident did not happen in the same context as Gant, who was going to be a free agent and wouldn’t play another game with the Braves because of his leg injury. As you probably know, Bumgarner is signed to an absolute bargain of a contract that he signed in 2012. If he had gone year to year with his contracts, he would’ve been a free agent this past winter and probably would be making more than $30 million this season. Instead, he’ll make a base salary of $11.5 million. And the Giants hold club options for $12 million in each of the next two seasons, too.
In short, the Giants have received a crazy amount of production from Bumgarner without paying him anywhere near his value. And he’s still a part of their future.
Here’s a good example of why that matters: In 1990, Carney Lansford blew out his knee in a snowmobile accident and missed the entire following season. But the A’s didn’t withhold his salary because they considered him a franchise cornerstone.
So while the Giants probably could file a case with the league to dock Bumgarner’s pay, it would amount to a lot of antagonization for relatively little financial gain. And besides, if he is significantly hurt to the point where his career is imperiled, the Giants can always just decline the options.
(Addendum: Bumgarner would have vested the 2018 option by throwing 200 innings this season. That’s an impossibility now.)
Could this shoulder injury be career threatening?
It’s possible. The shoulder is tricky because it has more range of motion than any other joint in the human body. There are so many ligaments, tendons and small muscles that allow the shoulder to be stable and function normally and without pain.
Once you stretch or tear some of those ligaments, there’s a greater risk of instability in the shoulder. If you’re a pitcher, that is … well, not good. And if you’re a pitcher who slingshots the ball from an unorthodox delivery like Bumgarner does? Who the heck knows?
Will the accident change Bumgarner’s relationship with the franchise?
If his shoulder doesn’t heal properly, then the answer is obvious. But even if he returns to full function and starts mowing down lineups within a couple months, it’s hard to imagine that there will be no future repercussions from this incident.
Last year, Bumgarner was a bit confused when club officials privately grumbled about the possibility of letting him participate in the All-Star home run derby. He pointed out that these were the same people who encouraged him get on a horse in front of a sellout crowd to raise the 2014 World Series banner, and kept pushing for it even after he had expressed reservations about trusting an animal he did not know in front of 40,000 screaming fans.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Bumgarner no-showed for the last two FanFests, as well.
This is not to suggest there is a wedge between the left-hander and the franchise. But no question, the Giants have allowed a different and somewhat inconsistent set of rules to be applied to him. And on some level, that is probably going to change.
Even if the Giants won’t say it, some of their trust in Bumgarner has been eroded. And maybe you’re a bit less inclined to give a $300 million extension to someone you cannot completely trust.
Risk management is pretty darn important when you make franchise-altering decisions.
The Giants didn’t re-sign Jeff Kent the winter after he broke his wrist while popping wheelies on his motorcycle. A distinction, though: Kent tried to cover up how he got hurt. Bumgarner came clean.
Honesty still counts for something. Give Bumgarner credit for one thing, then. He could not tell a lie.