The New York Yankees are usually in the conversation for every big-name free agent who hits the market. Now, they have an opportunity to re-sign one of next year’s top free agents — their own Harrison Bader — before the rest of the league sees how valuable he is.
In August 2022, New York acquired Bader from the Cardinals for left-hander Jordan Montgomery. At the time, it seemed like a ho-hum roster move for a platoon player. In the postseason, however, Bader won over Yankees fans by batting .333 with five home runs.
Remember this blast to give the Yankees the lead in the ALCS against Houston?
This season, after a stint on the injured list because of an oblique issue, Bader has helped lift the Yankees (26-20) back into contention in the AL East. Since coming off the IL, he has a slash line of .278/.316/.834 with three clutch homers, 12 RBIs, nine runs and two stolen bases.
Bader is one of the more underrated outfielders in the MLB. Counting the postseason, he is slashing .269/.305/.783 with the Yankees over the past two seasons.
Comparing players from different teams can be tricky, but a statistical metric called weighted runs created plus can help us. WRC+ measures the runs created by a player, taking into account different league factors.
Bader’s 2023 wRC+ of 127 is comparable to the figures for Cedric Mullins of the Orioles (130), Dansby Swanson (116) of the Cubs and Mookie Betts (137) of the Dodgers. It’s only a matter of time before the analytics departments of other teams dig into the stats on New York’s center fielder.
Bader — who turns 29 on June 3 — is also terrific defensively.
If Bader continues to produce at his current output, his agents could use the Swanson and Betts contracts as a comparison for a potential Bader deal. In July 2020, the Dodgers signed Betts to a 12-year, $365M deal. In December, the Cubs signed Swanson to a seven-year, $177M contract.
Bader, of course, isn’t worth an Aaron Judge-like deal. However, the Yankees can be proactive early in the season and re-sign the center fielder for a long-term, club-friendly contract that could pay tremendous dividends. New York could easily extend him for seven years at $70M-$80M.
Bader could be a staple in the Yankees’ outfield for most of the rest of the decade, but New York must move quickly. His price tag may only get higher.
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