Yankees insider pitches former rival as free agent alternative to Harrison Bader

Could the Yankees stomach another league-average (or worse) bat with elite defense in center?
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

If there's one thing the Yankees have attempted to become in recent years, it's the Tampa Bay Rays. They don't just want to contend. They want to do so while emulating their rivals down south, so they can both win and be beloved by baseball appraisers.

So why would they pass up an opportunity to get closer to God (the Rays' methods of roster construction) this offseason when former TB outfielder/current Toronto Blue Jay Kevin Kiermaier hits the open market.

This winter, the Yankees will have a difficult decision to make with Harrison Bader ... though it's become far less difficult over the course of 2023. Initially acquired to play stunning defense and hit a little, Bader raised expectations for his performance last October when he returned from injury and valiantly became the only Yankee who could hit in the postseason, drilling five playoff homers across two rounds.

In 2023, in pursuit of a long-term pact, Bader has been significantly less impressive. He's succumbed to injury a few different times (par for the course), while also regressing with the bat, posting a 78 OPS+ (!) on the year and a .207 hitter with a .510 OPS against righties, exacerbating the Yankees' weakness in that department.

The Yankees can't afford to pay Bader for multiple seasons. That we now know. His speed/defense combination will only recede further as he loses a step. So ... would they float Bader the qualifying offer, resulting in either a draft pick if he leaves or another season for the Bombers to find a more permanent solution? Or would they rather save ~$8 million on the QO and pay Kevin Kiermaier, a lefty, and an old enemy coming off a one-year, $9 million deal? The Yankees are loyal, but they love to save and collect former rivals. I think you already know which outcome is likelier.

Yankees Free Agent Target: Kevin Kiermaier, Toronto Blue Jays?

As Chris Kirschner posited in The Athletic this week:

"Even with his poor production at the plate, there aren’t many quality center fielders available this offseason, so Bader may end up cashing in a lucrative deal. Giving him the qualifying offer and essentially becoming a stopgap option until Jasson Domínguez or Spencer Jones is ready would be fine considering it’s just a one-year deal, but the Yankees should avoid a long-term deal at all costs. If the Yankees value Bader’s defense, they could go a cheaper route and sign someone like Toronto’s Kevin Kiermaier, who is league average offensively (but he is left-handed, which would provide the Yankees a bit more balance) and just as special defensively as Bader."

Chris Kirschner, The Athletic

Everson Pereira needs a real chance to capture a role next spring, and Jasson Dominguez will be a spring training factor, too. But even if a player like Kiermaier eventually gets squeezed out of a starting role, having him as a fourth outfielder among kids could be invaluable.

Kiermaier has already been worth 3.0 bWAR in 2023, down from his early-season pace, but still impressive (Bader sits at 1.0). His OPS+ sits at 103, and while he posted a down mark in an injury-plagued 2022 (88 in 63 games), that's consistent with his 102 in 122 games in 2021.

If the Yankees sign Kiermaier, they won't be doling out cash to a potential untapped superstar. They'll be adding a league-average (at best) bat, a Gold Glove outfielder, a mentor, and someone who can take aim at the porch (and has done so plenty in the past, eliciting plenty of aggrieved sighs in his heyday). This year, though he's marginally more potent against righties (.742 OPS to .720), he can still hold his own, batting .299 against same-side pitchers.

Kiermaier could keep the seat warm for Dominguez/Pereira without striving for more. It also appears Bader has already checked out in 2023. Why would he want to be tied to the Yankees for another lost year next season? The current Jay and ex-Ray is a frustrating rival -- and, yes, he does get hurt, too. All told, while he may not be a centerpiece, he'd be a very interesting supplementary addition for a Yankees team that should aim to be annoying next year, if nothing else.