Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone paying attention to the Yankees has Harrison Bader on the mind, and why wouldn’t they? The spunky center fielder is batting .333 with three home runs, 11 RBI and a 1.021 OPS in 13 games since returning from a strained oblique.

This is also probably a good time to mention that Bader is in his contract year. He’s making $5.2 million in 2023 and could command more than double per year on a new multi-year deal.

We have to answer two questions. What can Bader realistically expect on the free agent market? More importantly, is that a price the Yankees should be willing to pay?

Answering the first question is easy enough since Bader’s Mets counterpart, Brandon Nimmo, signed an eight-year, $162 million deal last offseason. This is basically the high-water mark considering that aside from Mike Trout and Julio Rodriguez, there really aren’t any true star center fielders in baseball.

Thus, Nimmo is the baseline comparison, so what is he? He’s a left-handed leadoff man and on-base machine, and he’s good for at or about 15 home runs a year when healthy. Health is actually key as Nimmo earns over $20 million a year, yet has appeared in over 100 games just twice since debuting in 2016.

Nimmo can also hold his own glove-wise, but this is probably the one area where Bader has him beat. His elite glove in center is why the Yankees traded for him in the first place. They’re similar enough bat-wise, but Nimmo has probably peaked. Bader, thanks to a new bat, is finally unlocking his offensive upside and is just a year younger than Nimmo.

So, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman should start drafting an extension, right?

Slow your roll because it’s not that easy. The Yankees have two highly touted outfield prospects in the minors: Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones. Both are developing as center fielders but when they’ll debut in the Bronx isn’t quite clear.

Dominguez, whose switch-hitting power at age 20 turned heads in spring training, is at Double-A Somerset. He’s played some left while Jones, contrastingly, has only played center at High-A Hudson Valley.

As to when they’ll debut, Dominguez is closer. He’ll probably get promoted to Triple-A Scranton late this year and spend most of 2024 there before making his long-anticipated MLB debut. That puts his being a regular Yankees lineup fixture by 2025 at the earliest.

Jones, who’s already being compared to Aaron Judge, is maybe a year behind Dominguez. That means from 2024-2026, the Yankees will need a reliable everyday center fielder. Bader is the best name available at his position this year. The Yankees won’t do better than him in the interim, even if his bat regresses to the mean.

That just leaves the money, so how much could Bader theoretically earn? His next contract won’t equal Nimmo’s, but what the Yankees can’t offer in length they can make up for in cash.

Let’s first assume that Dominguez makes a permanent move to left field at some point and the Yankees also finally unload Aaron Hicks. That clears the logjam in center, especially since Jones probably doesn’t debut until 2026 at the absolute earliest. He’s still only 21. Cashman loves hugging prospects close, so who’s to say Jones won’t get an extra year of development just because?

This clears the outfield logjam so the Yankees can keep Bader in pinstripes for a few more years. Even if the bat peters out, it’s hard to replace his +39 career defensive runs saved (DRS) in center and his +59 outs above average (OAA). He’ll be worth keeping so long as the hitting doesn’t regress to Hicks levels.

Offer prediction: Four years, $71 million (plus an option).

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.