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Mets signing OF Harrison Bader to one-year, $10 million deal

The speedy but oft-injured center fielder has signed a one-year contract with the Mets. We break down what it means for New York in 2024.

Harrison Bader of the Cincinnati Reds at bat in the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 10, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Harrison Bader is headed back to New York, but this time it’s Queens rather than the Bronx. Per SNY’s Andy Martino, the athletic but oft-injured outfielder has reached an agreement with the Mets on a one-year deal worth around $10 million.

The 29-year-old remains a tantalizing player, a superb athlete and among the very best defensive outfielders in the entire sport — the main reasons the Yankees were willing to part with Jordan Montgomery to acquire him from the Cardinals at the 2022 trade deadline. But the questions have always been 1) can he stay healthy and 2) can he approach even league-average production at the plate, and those questions dogged him once again in 2023.

Bader slashed a disappointing .240/.278/.365 (75 OPS+) with seven homers and 17 steals across 84 games with the Bombers last season, battling oblique, hamstring and rib injuries. New York eventually put the outfielder on waivers in August, where he was claimed by a Cincinnati Reds team desperate for some outfield help amid a wave of injuries. But once again, the story was the same: Bader hit just .161 in Cincy before getting shut down for good with a groin strain in mid-September.

Still, despite that checkered past, it’s not hard to talk yourself into this deal from the Mets’ perspective. Bader’s injury history and inconsistency at the plate make him a hard sell for a team that plans on contending in 2024. But the Mets have no such ambitions; this is a “see what you have to build around moving forward” season for new president David Stearns, a season to take some fliers and see what might stick — or fetch a nice return at this summer’s trade deadline. New York needed outfield depth, especially after the injury to Ronny Mauricio, and Bader will at minimum form a nice center-field platoon with Brandon Nimmo while dramatically upgrading the team’s defense and offering insurance for the rapidly aging Starling Marte in right. Plus, there are signs of untapped offensive potential here: the .784 OPS (114 OPS+) he posted across 2020 and 2021, or his unreal hot streak for the Yankees during the 2022 postseason.

Worst case, he’s either a perfectly fine fourth outfielder or he gets injured yet again — no harm, no foul for a Mets team that isn’t going anywhere in 2024 anyway. The best-case scenario, however, is pretty tantalizing: There aren’t a ton of available outfielders with as much upside as Bader if he finally puts it all together, and that player would be very much in demand among contenders come August. Signing a higher-floor option made little sense here; if any team should be taking a flier, it’s one with nothing to lose.