The Yankees should consider extending star defensive outfielder now

yankees, aaron judge
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader (22) celebrates with center fielder Aaron Judge (99) after hitting a home run in the sixth inning during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There is a strong argument to make that the Yankees should extend star defensive player Harrison Bader now before he hits free agency in 2024.

Health has been a bit of a concern for Bader the past few seasons, playing in 86 games in 2022 and 103 back in 2021. He hasn’t played in over 120 games since 2019, dealing with a plantar fasciitis injury last season that limited his contribution significantly until the playoffs.

The Yankees saw an elite version of Harrison Bader:

However, the Yankees saw the best of Bader late in the season, notably during elimination rounds. Specifically, over nine postseason games, Bader hit .333 with a .429 OBP, five homers, and six RBIs, good for a 252 wRC+. Of course, the sample size is small, but the Yankees saw legitimate power and elite athleticism on a number of occasions.

During the regular season, his numbers were a bit more modest, hitting .250 with a .294 OBP, five homers, and 30 RBIs.

Bader’s Steamer projections have him playing 130 games this season, hitting .248 with a .311 OBP, 15 homers, 59 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, and a 104 wRC+. Defensively, he expects to make a triumphant return to his usual numbers.

In the outfield last season, he recorded -1 defensive runs saved above average but seven outs above average. In 2021 across 886.2 innings in centerfield, he enjoyed 15 defensive runs saved and 14 outs above average.

Bader makes the Yankees’ outfield elite defensively, which is a reality that shouldn’t go underappreciated.

Ben Clemens of FanGraphs pointed out a pretty good argument for extending Harrison Bader now:

When the Yankees had no other good options in center, running Judge out there every day was fine. With Bader in tow, though, Judge can return to being an excellent corner outfielder instead. Average defense in center is a neat skill to have, but Bader is light years beyond that. He’s a perennial Gold Glove contender, and that might be underselling it. 

Offensively, Bader isn’t going to light up the stat sheet, but he does a lot of small things that impact the game in a big way. His range in centerfield is arguably the best in all of baseball, and the Yankees will enjoy a few flashy moments that save runs and ultimately win games. If he can get on base at a 32%+ and hit somewhere near 20 homers, the Bombers may have to pay a lofty price to extend him beyond the 2023 season.

However, the team is excited about the prospect of Jasson Dominguez elevating his game and could be their future centerfielder within the next two seasons. If that is the case, Bader may be a one-year wonder who takes his talents elsewhere in the future. Given the big contracts outfielders are letting these days, Harrison isn’t going to settle for a one-year deal, he will demand long-term security for his talents, and justifiably so.