On a great team, Harrison Bader is a fourth outfielder, and a very good one.
He won’t hit for a high average, but when he does connect, the ball can fly all over the field, and he can race for an extra bag with his speed. His outfield glove work may not own a gold glove just yet, but he will save a baseball team the most runs without a bat in his hands. Stolen bases and extra base hits aren’t far up the road, but a more basic cable package is what fans will ultimately get.
For most teams, that can be a nice commodity. In St. Louis, Cardinal Nation demands more from a starting centerfielder. Or more appropriately, they demand more from an offense that has been too feeble to help the team win an NLCS game in the past six years.
Mike Petriello, New York baseball writer for Statcast, sparked a fresh debate on Bader with a tweet on Thursday night, proposing a trade with the Mets.
My response was quick and arguably unfair to the young man.
I used to be an Uber driver, and there were a few players who jumped into my car. Also, I did quite a few airport trips during my three year stint with the rideshare company. And before he made it to the Major Leagues, I had the chance to do two different one-on-one interviews with Bader, so we may have some teleplay to develop on the way out. It’s nothing personal or hateful, something that Petriello alluded to this morning after the overwhelming response to his trade idea.
It’s not hate. Just the manner in which a player is used, or is continuously used. Bader had a chance to be the man in center, but he fumbled it. After an exciting 2018 season, 2019 was very disappointing. While his small sample size stats this past season were impressive, they have to be taken with two grains of salt. In disguise, it shows just how effective the New York native can be when used properly.
This goes deeper than some hollow “hatred,” and it’s the fact that the Cardinals’ outfield was a joke last season. A small serving of Dylan Carlson wasn’t a lifesaver due to the late breakout from the still very raw talent, and Dexter Fowler did just enough to remain a relative threat at the plate. Fowler’s .706 OPS didn’t scare many, and the projected .700 OPS for 2021 doesn’t present much of a warning.
Tyler O’Neill didn’t perform well in his slightly enhanced period of exposure, but he’s still here. Can the power overcome the high strikeout total? I don’t think it will happen in St. Louis, because that’s just the way things go these days for the Cardinals in middle-tier outfielders. Whether they are raised here or just acquired (The Canadian muscle man is in the latter party here), this team is incapable of producing a true star. Hopefully, Carlson is the end of that drought.
But he still won’t be able to save this coming season, whenever it starts. He’s a rookie who needs the proper time to be groomed at the proper pace. Don’t expect the world, but check the mailbox twice a day just in case. Bader is the other side of the rope for Cardinals fans, the one who didn’t become a stud, yet lingers as this trophy for the team to trot around every spring.
If Bader is on the roster, Mike Shildt will play him with a slightly smaller certainty than he does with Fowler. That’s still a relatively high amount of certainty, by the way. On a real playoff threat, not one masquerading as one, Bader serves a nice purpose and could put together a fine career in the league. Brett Gardner reminds me a lot of what the Cardinal can do at his best. And I’d bet that one of these seasons, Bader will slash .260/.340/.500 in around 130 games. He’ll do it once, but otherwise put together a modest career.
Bader represents more of what the Cardinals have been unable to do at a Major League level, not what he is solely good or bad at on a baseball field. In 348 games, covering four seasons, he has collected 215 hits and 306 strikeouts. The .234/.322/.399 slash line doesn’t impress much, but there’s a possibility that it could rise with less at-bats and more detailed assignments. There’s no curve in the majors. Just a yes or no.
I wouldn’t classify Bader as a “no” at the moment. But the Cardinals shouldn’t shy away from trading high before he slams into his 30’s here in a few years. If the stock is marketed properly, the owner can still make a steal with another team. We shall see.
Bader is a great kid. Talking to him was a pleasure. I never minded the ego much, if it actually delivered on the promise. Big words need big performances, endlessly. I haven’t seen that with him yet. It has nothing to do with hate, more about role and performance. Situations can breed players, but sometimes the other way around can create a deficit. In a perfect world, he fits in nicely with a Cardinals team carrying more offensive firepower. In this case, he’s a weak link on a broken chain.
In the meantime, keep hopes up that the front office down at Busch Stadium actually does something, instead of merely talking about doing something.