2:40pm: President of baseball operations John Mozeliak tells reporters that Bader will be down for four to six weeks (Twitter link via ESPN’s Marly Rivera).
9:30am: Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader will begin the season on the injured list due to a “flare up” of a forearm injury that required a platelet-rich plasma injection, manager Mike Shildt announced to reporters Wednesday (Twitter link via Jeff Jones of the Belleville News). He’ll be sidelined for a “solid four weeks at minimum,” according to Shildt.
The injury to Bader lends some clarity to the Cardinals’ outfield mix. Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson are locks at this point thanks to huge spring showings. Carlson can play center field early if needed or slide over to right field, where he’d been initially projected with a healthy Bader in play.
Justin Williams, Lane Thomas and Austin Dean are likely vying for the remaining starting job, and it’s possible that all three could make the roster (two as reserves). Dean does have some experience at first base, giving him a bit more utility in a bench role. Williams, meanwhile, is still awaiting ruling on whether he has a minor league option remaining or not. If he does not, then he’d be all but assured an Opening Day roster spot, as he wouldn’t be able to be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.
Bader has become a polarizing figure among Cardinals fans due to his low batting average, but he’s among the game’s best defensive center fielders and has some power at the dish. Over the past three seasons, he’s posted a combined .234/.326/.401 batting line with 28 homers, 41 doubles and seven triples through 958 plate appearances — good for a 97 wRC+ (about three percent worse than league-average offense when weighted for home park and league). Some of Bader’s OBP is propped up by frequently batting eighth in front of the pitcher, however, and his 29.4 percent strikeout rate in that stretch is problematic for obvious reasons. Still, a player with his defensive aptitude and a solid .167 ISO (slugging minus batting average) needn’t be an offensive force to provide value.
That said, the Cards will now get a longer look at several outfield candidates who have quite a bit of offensive upside themselves, so it’ll be interesting to see if any of them run with the opportunity and challenge the 26-year-old Bader for playing time upon his eventual return. That four-week timeline from Shildt would take Bader out through at least April 21, though the absence could very well be longer in the likely event that he needs a tune-up at the team’s alternate site/in Triple-A once his forearm discomfort has cleared up.