Yankees’ trade deadline deal to improve outfield turns out to be massive mistake

mlb: houston astros at new york yankees, harrison bader
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In an ideal scenario, Harrison Bader’s top-notch defensive skills would have been enough to cover for his offensive shortcomings in the New York Yankees‘ lineup.

Bader, after all, is a sensational defender, known for his routinely dazzling plays in centerfield. When General Manager Brian Cashman swapped left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery for Bader at last year’s trade deadline, many saw it as a potential playoff game-changer.

To add context, Bader was dealing with plantar fasciitis at the time of the trade, sidelining him for several weeks before making a robust comeback in the postseason.

A Flash in the Pan: Bader’s Short-Lived Brilliance

Contrary to his regular-season struggles, Bader lit it up in the playoffs, boasting a .333 average, a .429 OBP, and smashing five homers over nine games. However, this burst of production didn’t carry over into 2023.

This year, he’s managed a lackluster .239 average with a .275 OBP. His stat line also includes seven homers, 37 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, an 18% strikeout rate, a 4.2% walk rate, and a subpar 75 wRC+. Essentially, he’s been an offensive liability, although he’s maintained his stellar defensive play in centerfield.

A Deal Gone Sour: Trading Montgomery’s Emerging Dominance

In retrospect, the Bader-Montgomery trade wasn’t one of Cashman’s finer moments. Montgomery is currently 30, in a contract year, and enjoying an absolutely dominant season. After posting a 3.48 ERA last year, he’s upped his game, flaunting a 3.19 ERA over 152.1 innings this year. His stats are glowing: 8.15 strikeouts per nine innings, a 74.7% left-on-base rate, a 44% ground-ball rate, and a career-high fastball velocity of 93.5 mph.

Montgomery was further dealt from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers at this year’s deadline, where he has continued his superb form, recording a 2.30 ERA over 31.1 innings. In a season where the Yankees’ starting rotation has been hit hard by injuries, Montgomery has not only been a picture of consistency but has emerged as an elite pitcher.

A Missed Opportunity: Yankees’ Inaction and Bader’s Release

Here’s where the irony kicks in: Despite their pitching woes, the Yankees opted not to trade Bader for any sort of return, hopeful that he might propel them into the playoffs.

Fast forward to this Tuesday, and the Yankees have released Bader, rendering him worthless in a trade scenario as he faces free agency this winter. Meanwhile, Montgomery will also be hitting the free-agent market, likely with a bitter taste after being traded by the Yankees in spite of his excellent form.

The Front Office Quagmire: Time for a Strategy Rethink?

The Bader-Montgomery trade represents yet another blemish on the Yankees’ front office’s transaction history, a recurring issue that needs addressing. If the Yankees are to reset their trajectory, this trend of unsuccessful deals must be snapped, and soon.

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