Harrison Bader
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

With the New York Mets searching to upgrade their center field defense there is no better option than Harrison Bader.

According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the New York Mets are looking for a specific skillset in centerfield. Specifically, the Mets are looking for a right-handed batter who is a better defender than Brandon Nimmo in center.

That player does not exist on the free-agent market. This market is barren in centerfield, with the best player being a 32-year old coming over from Japan, Shogo Akiyama.

While Akiyama is reportedly a strong fielder and a good contact hitter, he has a critical weakness; he’s left-handed. Not to mention that his skills are reportedly in decline as he is now reaching the end of his prime.


If Brodie Van Wagenen wants someone who fits his specified skillset, he’s going to need to look to the trade market. Immediately, two names come to thought, Starling Marte and Harrison Bader.

Marte would be a tricky trade. He is still considered an elite player in many circles and is the face of the Pirates franchise. Even though he’s reached 30, and has had a down past two seasons, he would be difficult to acquire. Not to mention that Marte is under contract for $11.5 million in 2019. That would put the Mets withing $6 million dollars of the luxury tax.

That doesn’t leave them with much room to improve the bullpen or add another starting pitcher. It’s just overall hard to see how a Marte trade would work for the cash strapped Mets.

Bader, on the other hand, is a pre-arbitration player and would be under contract for four more years. So, he would be incredibly easy to fit under their cash strapped budget.

He’s also not well-liked in St. Louis right now. He came into the season as the starting center fielder, but after a down beginning to the year and an injury, he lost his starting job.

By the time the stretch run and the playoffs came around, Bader was all but benched, a move that made little sense if you look at the numbers.

The Mets should be doing everything than can to try and pry the Bronxville, NY native away from the Cardinals while his price is at an all-time low.

Defense

Harrison Bader is an elite defensive centerfielder by any measure. He was fourth in all of baseball in outs above average, he was worth 13 DRS, and his 21.8 UZR/150 was more than double any other center fielder in baseball.

Here’s a little taste of what Bader can do in the outfield:

If the Mets are serious about fixing their defense in 2020, Bader would be an excellent place to start. Not only would he play arguably the best CF defense in MLB, but he would allow Michael Conforto and Nimmo to stay in corner outfield spots where their defense is above average.

Adding Bader and playing him every day would give the Mets one of the best defensive outfields in baseball when everyone is healthy.

That alone would usually be enough to garner playing time. It was certainly enough to garner value. Despite down offensive numbers, which I’ll get to in a moment, Bader was worth 1.8 FWAR, 2 BWAR, and 2.5 BWARP.

That’s with only 406 PAs. If he got to 600 PAs, what an everyday player gets, he would have been worth 2.7 FWAR, 3 BWAR, and 3.7 BWARP. That’s how valuable his defense is. Even if he doesn’t produce offensively at a high level he will always be worth major value.

Offense

Bader is not without his faults. His offense was putrid in 2019, and that’s the reason his value is at an all-time low. In 2019 he slashed .205/.314/.366 with an 81 WRC+. There’s no getting around those awful numbers.

However, on closer inspection, there is reason to believe Bader is an excellent bounce-back candidate. First off, Bader was an above-average hitter in 2018. He slashed .264/.334/.422 with a 107 WRC+.

That, along with his elite defense, helped him to be worth 3.6 FWAR and 3.8 BWAR. Again, he only saw 427 PAs, so over 600 PA, he was playing at an all-star level producing 5.1 FWAR and 5.3 BWAR.

That’s not too dissimilar from Brandon Nimmo who produced 4.5 FWAR and 5.1 BWAR in 2018 in 535 PAs. Over 600 PAs Nimmo would have been at 5.0 FWAR and 5.7 BWAR.

That’s the kind of player Bader is when he’s at his best, and there’s reason to believe he can get back there.

All of Bader’s peripherals got better in 2019. His K rate was down, his BB rate was up, his soft-hit rate was down, his hard-hit rate was up, and he was hitting the ball in the air more.

All signs that his offensive production should have been increasing not declining. So what gives, well it’s pretty simple. Bader was incredibly unlucky in 2019. His BABIP dropped from .358 in 2018 to just .268 in 2019.

That .358 BABIP wasn’t out of place either. In the minor leagues, his average BABIP was .348. So, that giant drop came out of nowhere and seems to indicate being more unlucky than anything.

That should indicate that Bader is likely due to bounce back in 2020 and get back to being the player he was in 2018 or close to it. That would provide the Mets with a bat that strikes out a lot, but walks his fair share, steals bases, and provides power.

Considering his unbelievable defense, that is more than enough to make Bader an incredibly valuable player.

What would it take to get him

Bader is not going to come cheap. The Mets reportedly attempted to acquire him in Zack Wheeler trade discussions at the deadline, but the Cardinals weren’t having it.

There are two things to remember, though; this was before Bader was stapled to bench during the stretch run, and this was for only two months of Wheeler.

Those are things are a big deal. It seems like Bader has fallen out of favor, though his years of control and defensive value mean he won’t come cheap.

It’ll likely take a player like J.D. Davis to pull this deal off. Davis has five more years of control and doesn’t have a clear fit on the 2020 Mets roster due to his poor defense.

Shipping him to St. Louis who badly needs a corner outfielder and third base help makes sense.

Obviously, coming off a major breakout campaign Davis value is higher than Bader so the deal shouldn’t be straight up. however, if the Cardinals offered Bader and say major league ready pitching prospect Genesis Cabrera it could be a deal that makes a lot of sense for the Mets.

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