The Yankees have not had stability at CF in a while, as Harrison Bader is the Yankees’ 3rd starting CF in a postseason in three years. While Bader provides the Yankees their best option since 2017-2018, Aaron Hicks, he’s only under contract for one more season before free agency. Bader is still 28, not hitting the age of 30 until June 2024, but the injury questions present a serious discussion about whether the Yankees should keep him around beyond the 2023 season. When he’s healthy, Bader is one of the premier centerfielders in the league, but do they stand out enough to warrant an extension beyond the 2023 season?
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Anchoring the Outfield Defense
Harrison Bader’s defensive prowess is what he’s known for, and that’s something the Yankees clearly value. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to improve their defense not just for a year but for the foreseeable future as well. A strong defensive team helps with run prevention, and Bader’s career 48 Defensive Runs Saved, and 57 Outs Above Average are certainly integral for the Yankees to continue to play strong defense in 2023.
Harrison Bader has one of the best arms in the sport, registering throws of 91.5 MPH on average (91st Percentile) and reaching velocities of 96.8 MPH, which is one of the best Max Throw Velocities in the sport. He plays with Aaron Judge to his left, who has an absolute cannon as well and makes it difficult for baserunners to tag up on shallow flyballs or sharp line drives. We don’t know how the Yankees plan to handle LF, but Oswaldo Cabrera’s the likely starter for the position, and he has a great arm as well. It establishes the Yankees as arguably the most difficult outfield to run on, and that’s part of the appeal of Bader in CF long-term.
The range Bader displays frequently is remarkable as well, as his 92nd Percentile Sprint Speed allows him to get to almost anything. He covers 1.2 more feet per second than the average outfielder, and with great bursts and above-average reaction times, it’s no surprise he’s such an excellent defender. His athleticism is off-the-charts and should allow him to play Gold Glove defense for the foreseeable future. It’s no question that his defense is what sets him apart, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t upside offensively, either.
Finding His Home Run Power?
Harrison Bader has just 52 career HRs in 537 career games, but he has shown off 20+ HR potential in flashes over the last few years. In his last season of 100+ games played in 2021, he hit 16 HRs in just 103 games and slugged .460 with a 110 wRC+. That gave him a 3.3 fWAR in just 103 games, good for a 4.8 WAR/150 pace, which is what you’d expect from an All-Star caliber player. Steamer projects him for a 104 wRC+, 6 points shy of the mark he posted in that 2021 campaign. Bader could also greatly benefit from not playing in Busch Stadium, where he has an 11 HR/600 pace and .634 OPS.
Away from Busch, he has a 23 HR/600 pace, and that[‘s due to it being a poor ballpark to hit HRs in as a RHB. Per Statcast, Busch is 22nd in HR Factor for righties, whereas Yankee Stadium is 9th in that category. He exploded for 5 HRs in just nine playoff games, and we could see that power translate in his first healthy season since 2021. Bader’s foot injury was on his right foot, which is on your back leg as a RHH. Generating power comes from driving off your back leg, something he couldn’t do until he returned from the IL in September.
Bader has registered Exit Velocities above 111 MPH over the past two seasons, and for his Max EV in 2022 to come in the postseason on a 109.8 MPH HR off of Quantrill shows he can generate power on flyballs as well, an important skill for consistent HR power. A 105-110 wRC+ from Bader next year wouldn’t be asking too much of him and could be considered the range for his median (50th Percentile) outcome. With lowered strikeout rates over the past few seasons, he could provide needed contact skills to go alongside some overlooked power in the bottom half of the Yankee lineup.
Can the Yankees Trust Him to Stay Healthy?
With all of the great things Harrison Bader can do, it’s not a great idea to force an extension right now unless it’s at a bargain. The Yankees should wait and see how Bader handles a full season in CF in the Bronx and evaluate the position again in the offseason, especially considering they have Jasson Dominguez and Everson Pereria on the horizon, who could play CF in 2024
. For now, I’d consider a two year extension at $10-15 million a year with a vesting option for a 3rd season, but I don’t think Harrison Bader would take that. He’s got the chance to prove that he’s one of the 10 best players at a position that’s highly coveted on the market, so he should test FA.
It seems like a longshot for Bader to take a deal that would limit his future earnings and take him out of a spot where he’d hit free agency at the age of just 29 years old.
The Yankees should want Harrison Bader on this roster, but not long-term and not at an exorbitant price until he proves his durability. He hasn’t eclipsed 150 games yet, but I’m sure Bader is aware that he needs to prove this as well. All he’s shown in his time as a Yankee and in his career with STL is that he’s always evolving as a player, and this is the last hurdle he has to leap before he can truly become a star player.
The Yankees have a good problem here; they’re going to free up over $20 million with Donaldson off the books next year, and if Bader has a monster season, they can definitely bring him back. Ultimately the Yankees need to avoid another Aaron Hicks contract with a talented player that has injury concerns, but they also should give Bader the chance to prove he can be counted on to play almost everyday.