The Jordan Montgomery trade must be relitigated one more time. At the deadline, the Yankees shipped the reliable lefty to St. Louis in exchange for center fielder Harrison Bader, who at the time was in a walking boot. Bader wouldn’t play for a full month after being acquired, but once he was on the field, he quickly became a fan favorite, and was one of precious few reliable bats in the postseason.
2022 Statistics: 14 games, .217/.245/.283, 51 OPS+, 47 wRC+, 1 OAA, -0.1fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Signed for $5.2M; team control ends after 2023
I love Harrison Bader, and that personal attachment certainly colored my evaluation of him — that and, if he hadn’t had his incredible playoff run, I might have marked him off as an I for incomplete. His bat in the regular season left a lot to be desired but I can’t fairly grade only 14 games.
He homered five times in nine playoff games, posting a 252 wRC+ and taking over the leadoff spot for most of October. If you’re never as bad as your coldest streak, and never as good as your hottest, there are a lot of possible outcomes for Bader in 2023, his first full season as a Yankee.
We know he is one of, if not the best, center fielder in the game. I always enjoy when the data lines up with what we see on the field — he had just 600 innings this season and was top 10 in both Outs Above Average and UZR/150, although DRS doesn’t seem to like him all that much. Regardless of DRS, he has great range, good jumps, one of the strongest arms in the outfield, and a certain amount of natural instinct I really admire. You’ll see him deke out runners on nearly every base hit, he understands how to cut balls off and limit players to singles instead of doubles ... he really is a treat to watch in the outfield.
At the plate, it’s a little trickier. The platonic ideal of Harrison Bader is probably what Kevin Kiermaier was for a couple of seasons — league average or so with the bat, and the stud he is in center. If he puts that together, that’s a four-plus win player without breaking a sweat. Bader’s done that before, in 2018 and 2021, and I wonder if that kind of performance can be sustained over 162 — the most he’s ever played in a season thus far is 138.
He has some kinks in his swing that I think make him particularly susceptible to hot and cold streaks, which isn’t that uncommon for glove-focused outfielders (see Gardner, Brett). I think what we saw in the 23 games he played for the Yankees this year is probably what you’re going to get offensively, a really hot burst followed by a period where that swing gets crooked and he can’t find the ball. I’m curious what a winter with the Yankees’ hitting team is.
All in all, I can’t imagine any Yankee fan could be anything but pleased with what we got from Bader in 2022, all too brief though it was. He was as lockdown in the field as we expected, he showed flashes of brilliance at the plate, and he brings an energy and a positive enthusiasm — in many ways the antonym of Josh Donaldson — that makes you want to root for him. If he can unlock a level of consistency in his swing, he’s someone the Yankees can probably project for 4-5 wins in 2023, and in the second year of a contract agreed to last spring, he’s cost controlled to boot.