Harrison Bader in Yankees’ lineup against Pirates, Hicks unhappy

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The long wait is over. Harrison Bader is returning to the starting lineup on Tuesday. He will play for the Yankees against the Pirates.

Earlier Yankees manager Aaron Boone had confirmed Bader’s impending debut. The “total player” is on the 60-day injured list and will be activated prior to the game against the Pirates. On day six of his rehab stint in the minors, Bader took the field with Double-A Somerset.

Bader’s last game in the Major Leagues was on June 26. Since then, he hasn’t been able to play because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Even though Bader was still getting better, the Yankees traded for Jordan Montgomery from the Cardinals at the trade deadline. Many Bronx fans already hate the trade, even though Bader hasn’t even played for New York yet and Montgomery has done well as a pitcher in St. Louis.

Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have gone 24-30, which has made fans unhappy. However, the team still has a 5.5-game lead in the AL East. But if Bader gets better and can play at his usual level, there will be a lot less second-guessing because he is a great defender. He is the current NL Gold Glove winner in center field, and even though his foot problems have hurt him this season, Bader still has a +9.6 UZR/150 and +6 Outs in 588 2/3 innings in center.

Bader’s offense has been a bit more of a question mark this season. In 264 at-bats with the Cardinals, he hit .256/.303/.370. Bader was an above-average hitter in 2020 and 2021 (111 wRC+), so it’s also possible that the injury hurt him at the plate.

While talking to Ken Rosenthal earlier, Bader talked in depth about his health. He said that his foot problems started during Spring Training. The player also responded to criticism over his trade to New York.

While with the Cardinals, he had to once cut short his rehab following bone marrow edema.  He only got to play one game in the minors. Now, Bader thinks he is ready to come back, even though his right foot is still “a little sore.”

Aaron Judge’s incredible season has helped hide the fact that the Yankees’ outfield as a whole has been struggling. Judge has even spent some time in the center field instead of his usual position in right field. Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo, who was traded, both had a hard time, and Andrew Benintendi, who was picked up at the last minute, only played 33 games with the Yankees before he had hamate surgery. This means that Benintendi may not be able to play for the rest of the regular season.

The Yankees have taken care of their needs in the outfield by putting Giancarlo Stanton in the right field and using a wide range of older and younger players to eat some innings on the grass. Bader should play almost every day, but he’ll probably get some rest against right-handed pitchers to help with any foot pain he might still have from missing so much of the season.

That means that everyone else, including Hicks, will have less time to play. Even though Hicks had two hits and a home run in today’s win over the Brewers, he is still only hitting .216/.327/.308 this season after 420 PA. Even though the outfielder hasn’t been hurt for a while, he hasn’t hit as well as he did in his first four years in New York (123 wRC+ from 2017 to 2020) when he was healthy and able to play.

Hicks owes the Yankees $30.5 million between 2023 and 2025, but there has already been talking that the Yankees might want to move on if a trade can be made. He faces a tough Catch-22 situation. The player may not be able to hit better without regular at-bats, but his lack of production doesn’t make a case for him to get those regular at-bats. Hicks said that he wants to get bigger by 2023, after having wrist surgery last offseason that caused him to lose weight.

Will the return of Bader force Hicks to seek a move? Can Bader be a better asset for the Yankees than Montgomery to the Cardinals?

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