JUPITER, Fla. -- As he was signing the two-year, $10.4 million contract that will allow him to avoid salary arbitration and keep him a Cardinal through 2023, flashy center fielder Harrison Bader thought about how he got to this point.
No, not the career-best numbers he posted in 2021 and the Gold Glove-winning defense that made him an invaluable piece for the Cardinals. Instead, Bader thought back to the sacrifices made by so many people in his life so that he could someday be in position to find the sort of success and riches that came his way this weekend.
“I really do think about my father never missing a single day of throwing me batting practice after his job in New York and my mother never skipping out on supporting me on my entire road here,” he said of Louis and Janice Bader of Bronxville, N.Y. “To have that support, it highlights this moment.”
Bader, 27, avoids a potential salary-arbitration hearing -- both this season and next -- by signing a deal that will pay him $4.7 million in 2022 and ’23, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. Bader also received a $1 million signing bonus, and his 2023 salary can grow by another $2.25 million with contract incentives.
Bader’s signing leaves standout left fielder Tyler O’Neill as the only Cardinal who has yet to reach an agreement on a contract for the 2022 season. O’Neill -- who won a second Gold Glove in 2021 and had career highs in batting average (.286), home runs (34) and RBIs (80) -- could be facing an in-season salary-arbitration hearing if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. However, a source said this week that “progress is being made” toward a long-term contract.
In another move on Sunday, the Cardinals optioned promising utility player Brendan Donovan to Triple-A Memphis. With the Cardinals deciding to take 15 pitchers to Opening Day, the decision on the final roster spot came down to Lars Nootbaar or Donovan, and the club went with the versatile outfielder who played well in St. Louis last season.
The one position battle remaining is for the Cardinals' No. 5 starting pitcher. Jake Woodford and Drew VerHagen are still competing for the job, and manager Oliver Marmol said the two pitchers would stay behind in Florida to work again on Wednesday prior to traveling to St. Louis for Opening Day. Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz and Dakota Hudson have locked down the top four slots, and Woodford or VerHagen -- or possibly both in a “piggyback” situation -- will pitch on April 12 against the Royals.
Bader helped the Cardinals reach the postseason in 2021 by hitting .267 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs -- all career bests. Additionally, Bader continued to play some of MLB’s best defense in center field. Since 2018, Bader leads all MLB outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (47), Outs Above Average (47) and runs prevented (42). In terms of defensive Wins Above Replacement, his 3.5 rating is third in all of baseball. Additionally, his .973 Defensive Zone Rating in 2021 was the highest of any MLB outfielder since the creation of the statistic in 1997, according to Stats Perform.
“[Cardinals president John Mozeliak] has always said the entire time that I’ve been around him, ‘If you put up numbers, we’ll take care of you,’” Bader said. “So that’s definitely been my experience here.”
Bader was hopeful to get his contract issue resolved prior to Thursday’s Opening Day against the Pirates so he wasn’t having to “compartmentalize” thoughts of salary arbitration while also trying to win a championship for the Cardinals. Bader said he is now rooting for O’Neill to get his contract resolved so the franchise’s youthful and talented outfield of Dylan Carlson, O’Neill and himself can stay together for years to come.
“We work together, and like anything in life, communication is tremendously important,” said Bader, who lauded the work of outfield coach and Cardinals Hall of Famer Willie McGee for the group’s growth. “It’s a great core, and … hopefully we will carry it on for as long as we can.”