The New York Yankees are trying to solidify their outfield for years to come, locking Aaron Judge into a nine-year, $360 million deal this off-season. The left field position is up for grabs, despite management continuing to rely on Aaron Hicks and give him an undeserving advantage.
While Hicks holds a slight lead for the starting LF job, I wouldn’t rule out Rafael Ortega, Willie Calhoun, or Oswaldo Cabrera as potential solutions.
Notably, Ortega and Calhoun have played well during spring training, suggesting that the Yankees could make a change or, at the very least, play the hot hand during the regular season.
However, the center field position is locked up by Harrison Bader, who recently picked up an oblique injury, as reported on Thursday. The Yankees are having Bader go through testing, but since it is just discomfort, the hope is that it’s nothing overly serious. Hopefully, he requires a few days of rest and can return for opening day in late March.
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Nonetheless, despite the injury, Bader is eyeing a potential extension with the Yankees beyond the 2023 season.
“Being born and raised in New York, it’s always been one of my goals to play in a Yankee uniform,” Bader told Jon Heyman of the New York Post. “Now that I crossed off playing in a Yankees uniform, of course I want to be a Yankee as long as I can be. But I realize, especially being traded last year, that it’s not really up to me. The only thing I can do is go out there and be the best version of myself for this team and every other team.”
The Yankees are hoping Harrison Bader can be a game-changer:
Bader has one year left of service time before heading for free agency in 2024. Having played in 86 games last year with the St. Louis Cardinals and Yankees and performing admirably during the postseason, it is clear that he has substantial value when healthy.
Given his elite defensive qualities, Bader can make a significant difference in the outfield, utilizing his range and athleticism to take runs off the board. Last year wasn’t his best campaign due to the plantar fasciitis injury, but he posted 15 defensive runs saved and 14 outs above average in 2021 across 886.2 innings. In addition to his tangible value, he’s also an energizer and offers leadership qualities.
The Yankees need to do whatever it takes to ensure Bader is 100% healthy for the start of the regular season. Oblique discomfort is undoubtedly concerning, but we should get more information from the tests on Friday.
Ultimately, suppose Harrison can’t remain healthy. In that case, the Yankees may find it necessary to move on after the 2023 season since reliability should be at the top of their wish list given the fact that big free-agent signing this off-season, Carlos Rodon, has already been shut down until April at the very earliest.