Team brass accurately views the Bronxville-born Bader as a sparkplug who brings a positive edge to the field and clubhouse, plays championship-caliber center field, and just feels like a Yankee in that ineffable way that so many imports do not.
If Bader were consistently healthy, offering him a long-term contract extension would be as easy a call as a baseball operations department could make.
If only life were indeed that easy. Bader’s trip to the injured list on Tuesday, his second this season and fifth since 2021, served as a strong reminder of the risks that would come with paying the free-agent-to-be Bader, who turns 29 on June 3, to be the center fielder into his thirties.
The Yankees have already taken one high-risk plunge into Bader — and that was before their up-close experience led them to like the player even more. Last July, GM Brian Cashman traded Jordan Montgomery, a left-handed starting pitcher with nearly a season and a half of team control remaining, to St. Louis for Bader.
The trade shook up the clubhouse, where teammates liked Montgomery, and led to instant public criticism when Montgomery pitched well for the Cardinals and Bader rehabbed a plantar fasciitis injury.
But the Yankees had made the move due to an organizational belief, instilled four decades ago by former player development guru Bill Livesey, that championship teams needed strong defense up the middle.
Cashman and his staff had been working to tighten up that area since 2021, and by last July had Jose Trevino catching instead of Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres at second rather than shortstop, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa at short with Anthony Volpe and/or Oswald Peraza on the way.
With Aaron Hicks fading, Aaron Judge played 78 games in center last season, but this was a stopgap measure. Cashman knew that he needed an elite center fielder like Bader.
Angst over the trade faded as Bader returned and excelled on both sides of the ball in the postseason, hitting five home runs in two rounds and batting .400 in the team’s four-game ALCS loss to Houston.
Bader began this season on the IL with an oblique injury. When he returned on May 2, he provided an instant jolt, not just with his play but with his style of play. This year’s Yankees exhibit athleticism, confidence, and often seem to be having fun.
They might not be the most talented Yankee roster we’ve seen in recent years, but they seem to have more swagger, and they know how to win. Bader and the frequently ejected manager Aaron “Bobby Cox” Boone are at the heart of this collective personality.
The downside? Bader played in 26 games before returning to the IL, this time with a hamstring strain that Boone said will keep him out for at least a few weeks. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that his career high in plate appearances was 427, achieved in 2018.
On a recent episode of Baseball Night in New York, contract psychic Jim Duquette suggested that the Yankees offer Bader a five-year, $90 million deal. In light of Brandon Nimmo’s $162 million Mets contract, $90 million would represent a discount that factors in Bader’s injury history.
Even then, the team would have to worry about a situation that mirrors what they have experienced with Hicks and DJ LeMahieu. In both cases, the Yankees committed to a player at what turned out to be his near-peak, then subsidized declines in health and performance.
With so many Yankees already making semi-regular visits to the IL, does the team really want to add another in Bader, on a contract that would begin just months before his 30th birthday?
That is the conundrum. Bader is a perfect Yankee when he’s on the field. Is it foolish to assume that he will play often enough to be worth a commitment? Or would it be foolish to find the center fielder you’ve been looking for, and then let him walk?
Source: Yahoo Sports