There was certainly a time during the 2023 season where it felt like Harrison Bader was fated to be a long-term Yankee. A four-or-five-year deal felt like an inevitability prior to the season, coming off a playoff run keyed by the Bronxville native's sudden power surge.
Then, the campaign played out, and Bader -- against all odds -- didn't even make it to the finish line of his walk year in the Bronx. Despite remaining on the roster past the trade deadline. Yeah, it got that bad.
Bader was placed on waivers at the end of August, and though the Yankees' failure was obscured by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hitting the rewind button on their entire July, it still stung. The sterling defensive center fielder battled myriad injuries in 2023 and didn't hit when he did play, posting a revolting 69 OPS+. He recorded five hits in 14 games with the Reds after leaving his childhood team in the Bronx.
Adding insult to injury, former GM Jim Bowden predicted a number of free agent fits this week in anticipation of the forthcoming frenzy. After connecting the dots between the Yankees and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jordan Montgomery, and the league's other upper-echelon, non-Ohtani names, he decided to make one more tiny incision in the No. 38 spot.
That's where he labeled the Yankees among the best fits for Bader on a one-year, $8 million deal. That would fall at least $50-60 million short of the preseason valuation, which most fans were clamoring over each other to endorse.
Yankees Free Agent Fits: Harrison Bader on a One-Year Deal? Sad.
According to Bowden, Jeimer Candelario can expect a two-year, $15 million deal. That seems like a better use of the Yankees' funds than a Bader deal that tucks a tail through everyone's legs.
You have to feel for Bader, who seemed poised for a breakout season after channeling his otherworldly athleticism into slugging during the 2022 postseason, when the entire rest of the lineup went dormant. If he could find a little hometown magic in that interlocking NY, there was no telling what the Yankees might pay to keep him in center field for a half-decade.
Unfortunately, the ride didn't even reach September this time around, and the Yankees opted to stop the train and disembark. Instead of finding long-term security, Bader might be chasing Kevin Kiermaier money this winter. The Yankees, while they wait for Jasson Dominguez, probably prefer the actual Kiermaier instead.