From Bronx cheers to Citi Field jeers: Can Ex-Yankee win over Mets?

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The New York Yankees‘ former outfielder, Harrison Bader, is heading across the borough to join their crosstown rivals, the Mets. The one-year deal signals the Mets’ focus on defensive prowess and strategic depth, adding a dynamic gloveman with intriguing offensive potential, albeit one with a boom-or-bust track record.

Former Yankee returns to NYC

Former Yankees' outfielder Harrison Bader
Sports Illustrated

While the exact figures remain slightly in dispute, with reports ranging from $10 million to $10.5 million, the deal injects a jolt of defensive energy into the Mets’ outfield mix. Bader, soon to be 30 in June, has established himself as a defensive stalwart since his 2017 debut, racking up impressive metrics that place him among the league’s elite. His 52 Defensive Runs Saved, 68 Outs Above Average, and 46.6 UZR grade all rank within the top 10 among outfielders over the past six seasons.

Bader’s defensive wizardry extends beyond mere numbers. His athleticism and instincts shine in the outfield, routinely making highlight-reel plays and robbing hitters of extra-base knocks. This defensive prowess was a major draw for the Mets, who are looking to shore up their outfield after Brandon Nimmo’s struggles in center field last season.

But Bader isn’t a one-trick pony. His 77 stolen bases in 95 attempts showcase his speed and baserunning skills, adding another dimension to the Mets’ offensive attack. However, his offensive performance has been a mixed bag. While flashes of brilliance, like his 2018 and 2021 seasons with wRC+ marks of 107 and 108, respectively, suggest his potential, recent years have seen a decline. In 2022, split between the Cardinals and Yankees, his batting line dipped to .250/.294/.356, and his 2023 struggles with the Yankees ultimately led to his release.

Injuries have also hampered Bader’s consistency, limiting him to 287 games over the past three seasons. Various ailments, including a right rib hairline fracture, right foot plantar fasciitis, and left oblique strain, have taken their toll.

The Mets, under the guidance of new president of baseball operations David Stearns, are approaching 2024 as a potential transition year. Their strategy centers around strategic, modest signings and depth moves, and Bader perfectly aligns with this approach. His one-year deal provides outfield depth while allowing Nimmo to potentially shift to a corner outfield spot where his defense shines.

Furthermore, Bader’s strong platoon splits (.289 vs. lefties, .212 vs. righties) could lead to selective deployment alongside other outfielders like DJ Stewart, maximizing matchups and offensive production.

With Nimmo and Starling Marte’s injury histories, the designated hitter slot could become crucial for managing playing time and maintaining overall health throughout the season. Bader’s versatility in the outfield and potential offensive contributions against left-handed pitching could prove valuable in this regard.

Despite a relatively quiet offseason so far, the Mets find themselves teetering on the edge of the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. Their projected figure of $307 million exceeds the $297 million limit, placing them as third-time offenders and subjecting them to a 110% tax on any spending beyond that threshold. This could result in a hefty $20+ million tax bill for Bader’s one-year deal.

However, the Mets have some wiggle room. They possess the flexibility to adjust their financial picture through potential trades of key players like Pete Alonso or José Quintana if they fall out of contention before the season’s end. This could help mitigate the final tax burden and ensure their financial flexibility remains intact.

Ultimately, the Bader signing is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Mets. They add a premier defensive outfielder with intriguing offensive potential and roster flexibility, all while potentially setting the stage for strategic adjustments later in the season. Whether Bader translates his defensive genius and occasional offensive bursts into sustained success in Flushing remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: the Big Apple just got a whole lot more exciting to watch in the outfield.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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