The SF Giants have reportedly shown interest in veteran centerfielder Harrison Bader. As the club awaits decisions from key free agents like Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Matt Champan, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto (all of whom have been connected with San Fransisco), it makes sense that they would pivot some of their attention to building out a complete depth chart.
The SF Giants' pursuit of Harrison Bader: An ideal platoon or a risky gamble?
It is also clear that the Giants have a void at centerfield. Michael Conforto is locked into a corner outfield position. Veteran Mike Yastrzemski is also only suited to fill a corner OF role. This leaves only Luis Matos, who is only 21 years old with 76 major league games under his belt, as the only realistic center fielder on the current roster. It is one of the lighter areas on the 40-man roster.
The aforementioned Bellinger would immediately solve this dilemma. However, the 2023 Comeback Player of the Year will have many potential suitors. San Fransisco seems to have have interest in Bellinger, but given that he is represented by Scott Boras, the outfielder will likely wait out the market.
This leads us to Bader. The veteran outfielder seems to tick several boxes for San Fransisco. He is a seven-year MLB veteran. He is a career centerfielder. He is a recent Gold Glove winner (2021). He is only 29 years old. And, he is a middle-tier free agent with an affordable projected market value.
However, for everything that Bader's elite glove brings to the table, it must be noted that the former Cardinal has serious offensive limitations.
For starters, his power production has become almost non-existent (five homers in 2022 and seven in 2023). Additionally, Bader's once solid batting average (he has a career .243 hitter) has steadily declined to the tune of a .232 mark in 2023, including a .161 mark over the final 14 games as a member of the New York Yankees.
Despite the decline in his numbers, the right-handed bat has an .824 OPS against left-handed pitching throughout his career. Perhaps, he would be a marginal improvement over the role that Austin Slater assumes, especially since Bader is so strong with the glove.
The speed that allows Bader to effectively patrol centerfield also provides a boost on the basepaths. The veteran outfielder finished the 2023 campaign with a career-high 20 stolen bases. The Giants only had one player record double-digit stolen bases in 2023 (Thairo Estrada, 23).
This profile does make Bader an ideal fit in San Francisco. But not as a starter.
The journeyman is an ideal candidate to form a centerfield platoon alongside Matos. If the recently debuted Matos struggles, Bader could fill the role competently. If the team needed a defensive boost, Bader could answer the call. If offensive is needed, Matos' upside bat could carry the day.
Barring a massive step forward for Matos in his sophomore year, neither of these players seems suited for a role as an everyday centerfielder for a postseason-caliber team. However, if the Giants elect to spend the majority of their free agency funds on non-outfielders (perhaps Ohtani, a combination of Yamamoto and Chapman, etc) a tandem of Matos and Bader patrolling centerfield at Oracle Park is a sensible consolation plan.
San Fransisco should move forward with their reported pursuit of Bader, but only as a platoon candidate, first bat off the bench, or pinch runner.