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Harrison Bader: Savvy playoff addition or pointless roster subtraction?

Was the Yankees’ trade of Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader pure galaxy brain, or pure nonsense?

St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Brian Cashman decided to pull a Jerry Dipoto and make a wild trade that no one expected. The question is: How this trade will affect the Yankees going forward, was it a good move, bad, or simply perplexing?

First, a little primer on Harrison Bader is merited. A 28-year-old center fielder who bats from the right side, he is in the first season of a two-year, $10.4 million contract that will carry him to free agency at the end of 2023. This year has, however, been a step back for him from his .258/.327/.457, 111 wRC+ showing in 153 games from 2020-21, a span in which he hit 20 homers. Thus far in 2022, his triple slash line rests at .256/.303/.370 with a 93 wRC+ and just 5 long balls in 72 games.

Working in Bader’s favor is that he has significant speed and acumen in the outfield. This results in 15 stolen bases this year to go along with excellent defensive ability in center field with Outs Above Average in the 92nd percentile.

One of the sticking points, however, is that Bader is also currently on the injured list with a plantar fasciitis. He’s targeting a return by the end of the month, but he’ll be in a walking boot for another week and the timetable for his activation is not specific.

In a lot of ways, Bader profiles something like Kevin Kiermaier did for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is a relatively light hitter, though not a liability, and an excellent defender. Realistically, Bader will be a fourth or even fifth outfielder since Giancarlo Stanton should also be back by then. Right now, on their active roster they have Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, and Tim Locastro (and kind of Matt Carpenter). That’s a few too many cooks in the kitchen. Whenever Bader is ready, Locastro will likely be sent down, or designated for assignment if the 40-man situation calls for it. He and Bader fill the same type of speedster-defensive outfielder position anyway.

So what is the use case for Harrison Bader as a Yankee? With Stanton returning from injury soon and the Yankees likely playing it safe with him at DH for awhile, Bader could slide into a regular outfield role. If Bader ends up getting back before Stanton, they could give Judge a break while employing Benintendi, Bader, and Hicks in the outfield. Then the Yankees do not have to suffer Carpenter’s “defense.” Instead. Carpenter becomes a bat to be used off the bench in important situations. In this formation, the Yankees have good defense and decent offense in the outfield, and even when Stanton’s in the fold as well, it only creates more options.

In addition, during the postseason, Bader could provide a ton of value for the Yankees. Late in games, if he’s not already starting, he could come on as a pinch-runner to help steal a base. He has the kind of speed (in the 94th percentile) to win a game on a steal or dash around third to home. This could be what the Yankees are getting him for. It's not for the stretch run, but for the very specific situations in the postseason where you need speed and defense to inch out a victory. Bader can provide a lot of value in that kind of situation.

So what did the Yankees give up for Harrison Bader? Goodbye, sweet Gumby.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Yes, the Yankees traded Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader. He has been a surprisingly decent pitcher for the Yankees since his debut in 2017. Entering his age-29 season, with only a year remaining before he hits free agency, the lefty has pitched to a 3.69 ERA over 114.2 innings. It was rather surprising to see the Yankees trade a decent pitcher for a player who will be buried on the depth chart.

So why did they decide to trade Montgomery? Well, it would appear that this might be fallout from the Frankie Montas trade. The former A’s ace will slide right into the spot previously held by Monty. As a result, the Yankees will probably throw out Domingo Germán as their fifth starter for the time being, and their rotation would feature Cole, Cortes, Taillon, Montas, and Germán. Clarke Schmidt is also being stretched out again in Triple-A case anyone goes down.

Let’s just say that Germán has been somewhat of an experience this year. Since returning from the injured list, he has a 6.39 ERA over just 12.2 innings, and he really hasn’t looked good since 2019. This does not compare well to Monty’s 3.69 ERA this year (or general reliability), though it does appear that the lefty has been running into some positive luck as his xERA* sits well above his actual ERA at 4.14. It does appear that the Yankees like him a lot more than the average Yankees fan. Who knows? Maybe their analytics department has him being an amazing pitcher and Monty on the downswing. Unfortunately, that has not yet happened on the field.

*For those wondering, Germán’s xERA is almost exactly the same as his regular ERA: 6.40.

This all makes the move very perplexing, as Josh alluded earlier tonight. The Yankees did not really need another outfielder. On the other hand, they could have used more starting pitching to take Germán’s place in the rotation, or at least to provide insurance with Frankie Montas recently off the IL, Jameson Taillon looking iffy, Luis Severino on the shelf, and Nestor Cortes at new career-highs in innings. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where Germán (or an opener) is suddenly in the potential playoff rotation.

Most likely, Bader will be a good outfielder for the Yankees, but ultimately, his value will rest with how he is used in the postseason. If he manages to steal a crucial second base or snag a home run, then he might prove an incredible get for the Yankees. So maybe this trade stands as a little galaxy brain and maybe a little bit nonsense. Let’s call this the nonsensical galaxy brain. I bet this galaxy contains people with square heads. Oh, the horror; and yet, it could be better.