Locking up Harrison Bader: The Yankees need him for long term

Harrison Bader at Yankee Stadium. He remains red hot this season.

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Since his season debut, the Yankees’ center fielder has been on fire. In center field, the Yankees hoped to achieve Gold Glove quality defense when they acquired Harrison Bader from the St. Louis Cardinals at the 2022 Trade Deadline.

Harrison Bader has performed exactly as advertised, providing consistency on defense. As seen by his outstanding 2022 postseason in which he hit five home runs, his hitting ability, which had been below average in St. Louis, seemingly clicked once he put on the pinstripes.

Despite missing the first month of the season with an oblique strain, Harrison Bader has started up right where he left off offensively and revitalized a sputtering Yankee lineup. The center fielder for the Yankees has been red-hot through the first eight games with 0.6 WAR,.429/.448/.893 slash line, 558 wOBA, and 268 wRC+.

Isn’t it time for the Yankees to tie him to their team for the long term?

The Yankees need Harrison Bader

The native of the Bronx was the offensive highlight of the Yankees’ two-game sweep in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays, but the team still lost the series. In the first game of the series, he hits this sick three-run homer in the sixth inning and totally saved the day, bringing the team back from a gnarly 4-0 deficit.

harrison-bader-new-york-yankees
AP

For game two, when he came off the bench, he hit a sweet single in his first at-bat, and then later on he nailed a two-run single in the eighth, securing a sweet 3-2 victory for the Yankees. In the final game, Harrison Bader seriously crushed it, going 3-for-5 with a homer, a triple, and a double. But unfortunately, he falls just short of hitting for the cycle.

Harrison Bader’s strong hitting carried New York to a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. In Game 1 of the match, he smacked a triple to center field in the fifth inning and then went on to score the first run of the game, leading his team to a 7-2 victory.

If Harrison Bader continues his hot streak, the Yankees should be optimistic about their season.

Yankees must think long for Harrison Bader

The Yankees paid a heavy price for not signing Aaron Judge to a long-term contract earlier. They should use this experience as leverage to successfully extend Harrison Bader’s contract. The Yankees would be well to give some thought to giving Bader a contract extension of at least more than two years.

The Yankees swapped Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader at last year’s trade deadline. Fans initially panned his move, citing his injury and Montgomery’s brilliant innings as reasons. Harrison Bader’s playoff performance, though, quieted the crowd. The Yankees should think long and hard about extending Bader’s contract beyond the current two years.

Harrison Bader against the Oakland A's at Yankee Stadium on May 10, 2023.

The Yankees’ outfield defense is elevated to the average or higher thanks to Harrison Bader. With he is Bader on his team, Judge has been back to becoming a great corner outfielder. Based on his Statcast projection of 46 runs over the league average in center field in 2022, Bader ranks fourth in baseball after Lorenzo Cain, Byron Buxton, and Kevin Kiermaier. Harrison Bader is ranked sixth by DRS but first by UZR.

This kind of protection is essential. Just look at Kiermaier. The Rays, a team known for its extreme frugality, paid him the most for a number of years, and he provided exceptional value by averaging over 4 WAR per 600 PAs. With four WAR, a player is on the cusp of being an All-Star. Reaching 600 plate appearances is no easy feat, but Kiermaier achieved it with near All-Star level output.

It’s understandable that Harrison Bader would be inconsistent after suffering a serious injury in 2022. The total sum of his wRC+ from the year was 102, and he hit the same number of home runs in October as he did all year long.

The Yankees are taking a risk if they have not had Harrison Bader for a prolonged period of time. Although his injury risk is a contributing factor, he has averaged 400 plate appearances a year. Harrison Bader was mostly used as a starting outfielder for the Cardinals. Early in his debut year (2017), he played primarily as their fourth outfielder. In 2018, he had a brief stint playing in the minor leagues. Harrison Bader has been hurt a few times since then, but none of it has been serious enough to derail his career.

What will it cost?

Harrison Bader’s Yankees contract will come to an end after this season. His 2023 pay is already determined because he signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals before the start of the previous season. The question is what kind of incentive the Yankees would have to provide him to stay with the franchise after 2024. Harrison Bader will turn 30 on June 3, 2024, yet he looks much younger than that. This type of contract is unusual.

Anthony Volpe with Harrison Bader after hitting a home run for the Yankees against the Guardians on May 2, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.
Twitter-NYY

Harrison Bader would be satisfied with a sentence of four years and $50 million. Especially for players getting close to 30, free agency tends to value offense more than defense. But few defenders can match Harrison Bader’s caliber.

This is the record of a famous player who always worries about being hurt. When healthy, Harrison Bader should be able to contribute at an All-Star level despite never having more than 400 PA in a season. In 2023, he expects the rate to be close to 5 WAR per 600 PA. ZiPS offered him a four-year contract extension worth $88 million.

Over the next four years, Harrison Bader’s defense is not expected to decline much, according to ZiPS. Partially because it hasn’t happened yet, and partly because his defensive abilities hinge on his speed. Bader’s speed to react and execute routes sets him apart from his peers. In terms of jumping ability, he consistently places in the top tier of center fielders.

ZiPS says Harrison Bader is a unicorn, but it’s possible that other systems would disagree. For the Yankees’ sake, extending Harrison Bader’s deal is a smart move. They won’t have a lot of choices in the free agent class of 2024.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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One thought on “Locking up Harrison Bader: The Yankees need him for long term

  1. I only just caught up to this article. This is tricky. Bader is everything on defense this article claims, but he’s not much of a hitter. His OPS+ currently sits at a below-MLB average 90, and for his career it’s 96, so this is who he is as a hitter. Worse, much of his OPS+ comes from his mediocre slugging average. His OBP, a more valuable statistic, is 16 points below MLB-average for his career, and 26 points below average for this season. He seems to have fallen into a mediocre rut as a hitter and, soon to be 30, is unlikely to get better. He is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the majors–maybe the best–but how long will that last? ZIPS is a nice toy, but isn’t infallible, and the odds are his glove will start declining in two or three seasons. That’s problematic because his bat isn’t strong enough to put him in one of the corners. So, if the author is right and Bader would take four years for $50 million, that might be a deal worth making for the Yankees, even though Bader seems to get hurt every year. The contract would take him to his age-33 season. But would he take that deal? I bet he looks for a contract that takes him to age 35, which will result in an overpay, and it’s easy to imagine some team going that high. If so, the Yankees should refrain. One other issue makes a deal with him problematic: The Yankees are entirely too righthanded, and since their hitters give opposing pitchers many of the same “lanes,” this weakens their offense. They need more lefthanded punch. If Pereira is the heir apparent in left, and if the Yankees intend to play Torres, Volpe,. and Peraza next season, signing Bader would give them only one lefthanded bat, Anthony Rizzo, and it remains to be seen whether he can completely recover after walking around for two months with a concussion. They might be better off letting Bader walk and finally giving an extended opportunity to the lefthanded Florial in center (he’s torn up AAA pitching this season). I know Florial hasn’t hit much in the majors, but he’s not been given a fair opportunity. It may be time to do that.

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