Yankees Planning To Activate Harrison Bader On Tuesday

Mark Polishuk

Mark Polishuk

Harrison Bader finally looks ready to make his Yankees debut, as manager Aaron Boone told reporters (including Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News) that Bader will “likely” be activated from the 60-day injured list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Pirates.  Bader played the sixth game of a minor league rehab assignment today with Double-A Somerset.

Bader’s last Major League appearance was back on June 26, before he was sidelined due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.  Even while Bader was still on the mend, the Yankees acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline in exchange for Jordan Montgomery.  The swap has already become infamous in the view of many Bronx fans, considering that Bader has yet to even take the field for New York while Montgomery has pitched well in St. Louis.

The Yankees’ 24-30 record since the All-Star break has led to some general unrest amongst the fanbase, though the team still has a 5.5-game lead in the AL East.  If Bader is recovered and able to play at his usual level, however, there will be a lot less second-guessing given Bader’s proven defensive excellence.  He is the reigning NL Gold Glove winner in center field, and even with his foot problems hampering his play this season, Bader still has a +9.6 UZR/150 and +6 Outs Above Average over 588 2/3 innings in center.

Offense has been a bit more of a question mark for Bader, who slashed .256/.303/.370 over 264 plate appearances with the Cardinals this season.  But, it is also quite possible the injury also impacted Bader at the plate, as he was an above-average hitter (111 wRC+) in both 2020 and 2021.

Bader went into detail about his health situation in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal earlier this week, saying that his foot issues first arose during Spring Training.  Between both the plantar fasciitis and the swelling of the bone marrow edema, Bader had to cut an initial rehab assignment (back when he was still a Cardinal) short in July after one minor league game.  Now, Bader believes he is ready to return, even if his right foot is still “a little uncomfortable.”

Aaron Judge’s all-timer of a season has helped paper over a Yankees outfield that has struggled as a whole, with Judge even getting some time in center field rather than his usual spot in right field.  Aaron Hicks and the now-traded Joey Gallo both struggled, and deadline pickup Andrew Benintendi played only 33 games in the pinstripes before undergoing hamate surgery, putting Benintendi’s availability for the rest of the regular season in doubt.

The Yankees have addressed their outfield needs by giving Giancarlo Stanton some time in right field, and they’re also turned to a wide array of experienced and younger players (i.e. Miguel Andujar, Estevan Florial, Marwin Gonzalez, Tim Locastro, Oswaldo Cabrera, Matt Carpenter) to eat some innings on the grass.  In theory, Bader will play just about every day, though he’ll likely get some rest against some right-handed pitchers to help manage any lingering foot soreness he might have after missing so much of the season.

That leaves less playing time for everyone else, including Hicks.  Even after two hits and a home run in today’s victory over the Brewers, Hicks is batting only .216/.327/.308 over 420 PA this season.  While the outfielder has been healthy after several injury-plagued years, he hasn’t shown much of the offensive form that he delivered over his first four seasons in New York (123 wRC+ from 2017-20) when he was able to play.

Hicks is owed $30.5MM from 2023-25, but there has already been speculation that the Yankees could be looking to move on if a trade can be arranged.  For his part, Hicks acknowledged the struggles in an interview with The New York Post’s Dan Martin, saying “things are tough in New York.  I don’t have an answer.  If they feel this isn’t the right fit for me, that’s their call.  If I do go to another team, I know I can help them win.”

Hicks has no issue in stepping aside for Bader, saying “I expect [Bader] to come in and start playing every day, as he should.  He got traded here to help us win.  We need him to be himself to win a World Series.”  That said, Hicks also felt his struggles weren’t being helped by a lack of playing time: “It’s extremely hard when I play a game and then I’m off for three days and now there’s another outfielder out there…As of right now, I feel the more I play, the better I’m gonna play.  That’s not what’s going on right now.”

It all adds up to a tough Catch-22 for Hicks — he may not be able to hit better without steady at-bats, and yet his lack of production isn’t making a case for that regular playing time.  Looking ahead to 2023, Hicks said he is planning to add some bulk, after losing weight last offseason in the wake of wrist surgery.

I wanted to get faster and healthy, but me playing at 200 pounds isn’t it.  I haven’t been impacting the ball like I wanted to,” Hicks said.  “It’s really showed, with my power down.  I wanted to be quicker and it didn’t work out that way.”

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