The Cardinals and outfielder Harrison Bader have agreed to a two-year, $10.4MM contract extension, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (all Twitter links). The deal will cover Bader’s final two years of salary arbitration eligibility, and he’ll now receive a $1MM signing bonus up front, and $4.7MM salaries in both 2022 and 2023. Up to $2.25MM in incentive clauses can also be earned for the 2023 season, based on plate appearances or games-played thresholds. Bader is represented by Vayner Sports.
There was a sizable gap between Bader and the Cardinals when the two sides submitted their arbitration figures, as Bader was looking for $4.8MM and the team countered with a $3.8MM number. (Both figures were higher than the $3.7MM that MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected for Bader’s 2022 salary.) The extension now means that a hearing is no longer necessary, and Bader’s arbitration process can be sidestepped entirely next winter.
It’s a nice payday for Bader, who has gone from being a backup outfielder to something of an under-the-radar five-tool talent. There was never any question about Bader’s defense, and his excellent center field glovework was recognized with his first Gold Glove Award in 2021. Bader is also a strong baserunner and could hit left-handed pitching, but questions persisted as to whether or not he could produce against right-handers.
Bader answered the critics last season, batting .273/.331/.458 with 12 homers over 326 PA against righties. Oddly, this slash line actually topped his numbers against southpaws, yet the sum total was still a .267/.324/.460 slash and 16 homers over 401 plate appearances (110 wRC+, 116 OPS+). Between this above-average offense and great defense, Bader was a 3.4 fWAR player in only 103 games, as he missed almost two full months of the season with forearm and rib injuries.
This isn’t to say that Bader is necessarily a finished product at the plate, as he had subpar hard-contact numbers and didn’t generate many walks last season. His .331 wOBA was also far higher than his .295 xwOBA, so there was certainly some good fortune at play. Still, even if Bader’s offense takes a step backwards, his defense is alone good enough to merit at least a part-time outfield role.
Between Bader in center, fellow Gold Glover Tyler O’Neill in left field, and star prospect-turned-breakout player Dylan Carlson in right field, St. Louis has one of baseball’s best young outfields, and this trio was a major reason why the Cardinals pulled off a late-season surge to make the playoffs. The Cards augmented this group of right-handed hitters with lefty-swinging Corey Dickerson this winter, plus Lars Nootbaar and the versatile Tommy Edman will be getting some time on the grass.
The Bader extension takes care of one of the Cards’ two outstanding arb cases, as O’Neill has also yet to agree on his deal for the 2022 season. However, MLB.com’s John Denton hears from a source that “progress is being made” toward an agreement with O’Neill.