DETROIT — Harrison Bader was in the Yankees’ lunch room on Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park when he saw his name flash across the bottom of the screen.
New York had placed him on waivers.
The move, first reported by Newsday’s Erik Boland and later confirmed by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand through a source, has not been confirmed by the Yankees, as manager Aaron Boone said postgame that he was unable to comment.
Before the game, though, Bader still had a job to prepare for. He was starting in center field and batting sixth against the Tigers, and he did his best to remain focused. He didn’t blame his 0-for-4 showing on the shock, but he did admit that the unknowns surrounding the curious situation of being in the field and at the plate but also on waivers gnawed at him during the lulls in action.
Shortly after New York had wrapped up a 4-2 win, Bader seemed resigned to the idea that change was coming, but he was hopeful about what it might bring.
“Regardless of what happened or may happen,” Bader said, “just getting the opportunity to play in this uniform — and I still hopefully do get the opportunity to — just everything that’s happened has been an absolute blessing. An absolute gift.
“I’m a New York City kid, and I never in a million years thought I’d play in the big leagues, let alone for the New York Yankees. So, the opportunity has just been incredible. And I’ve loved every second of it.”
At 11 games out of postseason contention, the Yankees have begun to shift focus away from their immediate future and more toward their long-term goals. More often than not lately, New York has opted to give its young talent playing time, allowing guys like Oswald Peraza and Everson Pereira to gain invaluable experience as they build toward 2024 and beyond.
With that, though, comes tough decisions involving odd men out. New York announced that it had released outfielder Josh Donaldson earlier Tuesday.
Bader joined the Yankees in a 2022 Trade Deadline deal that sent Jordan Montgomery to St. Louis.
Bader was fresh off an NL Gold Glove Award-winning season with the Cardinals in 2021, and he came highly lauded by general manager Brian Cashman for his outfield defense. At the time, the Yankees were looking to move Aaron Judge out of center field to help save his legs in preparation for a deep postseason run.
Sprinkle in a little nostalgia — the 29-year-old Bader was born in Bronxville, N.Y., and raised in the shadow of Yankee Stadium — and the trade seemed to be a fit on all sides.
Bader had two hits and three RBIs in his Yankees debut on Sept. 20. Then came the 2022 postseason, and with it, Bader’s five homers in nine games before New York bowed out in the AL Championship Series against the Astros.
But after that, as Montgomery flourished with St. Louis, Bader’s career never quite took off the way anyone had hoped.
A lot of that was due to myriad injuries. Including Tuesday, Bader had appeared in just 97 games during his year-plus tenure with New York, with plantar fasciitis, a left oblique strain and a right hamstring strain each preventing him from gaining much momentum at the plate.
He has a .239/.275/.365 slash line after what could have been his final start with the Yankees.
Bader is set to become a free agent at season’s end, and should a team pluck him from waivers, the Yankees would be relieved of the remainder of his $5.2 million contract. Signing with a team before Thursday’s deadline would also make Bader eligible to appear on a postseason roster, so a waiver claim from a team in contention is a best-case scenario for all parties.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Bader admitted. “Players have been through this before, and who knows what happens? I just know that when I get the bat in my hands and get an opportunity to play center field, I know what I can do. So I’m just excited, and we’ll see where it goes.”