Yankees have difficult decision to make with star defensive outfielder

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees, harrison bader
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Yankees approach the off-season in a few months, they face critical decisions, notably concerning their outfield unit.

While the reigning MVP, Aaron Judge, is set to enter his contract’s second year in 2024, general manager Brian Cashman may add another outfielder at the imminent trade deadline. However, the significant decision lies in Harrison Bader’s future with the club.

Clutch Performance: Bader’s Impact against AL East Rivals

On Monday night, Bader demonstrated his potential for key plays and delivering results against AL East rivals. During the face-off with the Baltimore Orioles, Bader hit a decisive three-run homer in the 8th inning, driving Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo home.

Bader recounted the event with enthusiasm, praising the energy from the Bronx crowd and the importance of the win amidst the season’s heart. His primary aim was to round the bases, return to his team, play defense, and secure the game’s end.

“It was cool,” he said. “The Bronx showed up tonight with the energy and we’re right in the middle of the season, right in the thick of it. So to get a win for them is great. I just wanted to round the bases, go back to my team and play defense and finish that game off.”

With the Yankees trailing 3-0, Bader’s timely intervention was crucial in shifting the tide and energy around the club.

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Bader’s Seasonal Performance: A Look at the Stats

On the season, Bader’s performance includes a .261 batting average, a .284 OBP, and a .478 slugging percentage. Though his on-base rate doesn’t quite signify efficiency, his hitting and slugging show promising production.

Bader currently boasts a 105 wRC+, seven home runs, 26 RBIs, and seven stolen bases. His career-low 12.1% strikeout rate accompanies a personal low 2.8% walk rate — a figure Bader intends to improve. However, this could be a worthwhile trade-off for better slugging metrics.

His hard-hit rate stands at 27.7%, a 9.2% barrel rate, an 84.9 mph average exit velocity, and a 20.6° launch angle, suggesting increased ball elevation.

Bader’s 44.5% pull rate, the second-highest since 2018, often results in more home runs. Also, his flyball rate has surged to 52.5%, a significant increase from his 41.7% career average, pointing to escalating slugging numbers.

Health Concerns: Assessing Bader’s Fitness

The Yankees’ decision hinges on Bader’s overall health, which has proven unpredictable over the years. In 2022, Bader played 86 games, with the highest in the past four seasons being 103. He has already suffered several injuries this year, leading to stints on the injured list alongside Judge.

The Yankees have a history of retaining injury-prone players despite evident risks. The potential benefits of a reliable centerfielder could outweigh one that plays half the season but has significant influence on both sides of the ball.

Defensive Prowess: Bader’s Reputation

Defensively, Bader is recognized as one of the game’s finest, with three defensive runs saved and six outs above average this year. His exceptional athleticism and instinct have endeared him to fans when he’s fit, but his absences are noticeably felt when he’s sidelined.

Looking Ahead: The 29-year-old’s Future with the Yankees

Given the 29-year-old’s propensity for injuries every season, the team must prepare for his absence. As long as Judge remains fit, the Yankees have sufficient firepower to cover for Bader’s time off. However, recent seasons have shown the pitfalls of investing in unreliable players.

Ideally, Brian Cashman will assess the free agency landscape for a more consistent centerfield alternative. While Bader’s return wouldn’t be objectionable due to his energy and quality, committing significant investment to a player likely to miss portions of every season remains a tough call.