Yankees set to face Jordan Montgomery as true impact of trade won’t be known until playoffs

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ST. LOUIS — When the Yankees arrived Thursday night, there was a jarring sight if they turned on their TVs. With the Cardinals finishing off a doubleheader against the Cubs, the TV was showing a lot of former Yankee and new Cardinal Jordan Montgomery in a bright red Cardinals hat.

If they missed that, they will get a very up close and personal look at Montgomery on Saturday night when he pitches against his former teammates. In a trade that is still perplexing for how it weakened the Bombers’ pitching depth, they sent Montgomery to St. Louis for Harrison Bader, a tremendous defense center fielder who is on the injured list and in a walking boot for at least another week.

“I still don’t really think I’ve ever performed the way I should here,” a shocked Montgomery said Tuesday night. “I am a lot better player than I’ve ever shown, but I think I was consistent and definitely worked my hardest.”

The fact is, however, despite running into a rough stretch his last few outings, Montgomery had been a fairly solid starter for the Yankees. The 29-year-old homegrown lefty pitched to a 3.94 ERA over 502.2 innings in his five-plus seasons in the big leagues. This season, Montgomery had a 3-3 record because of poor run support and a 3.69 ERA. The lefty’s numbers were a little deceptive, as his xERA 4.11 indicates some very positive luck.

Dealing Montgomery removed the final piece of the Yankees’ pitching depth insurance. While the Yankees made it clear they felt like they could trade Montgomery because he would not be in their postseason rotation after they acquired Frankie Montas, it left them with a rotation already showing its wear. Jameson Taillon, who has a considerable history of injuries, is struggling. Luis Severino is being slow-walked back from the injured list, perhaps because of his history of injuries. Gerrit Cole just has not been the stopper the Yankees need in big games. Nestor Cortes has been the Bombers’ most consistent and reliable starter of the season, but he’s pushing into an innings-pitched area he’s never gone.

The trade deadline saw the Bombers also send away their top tier of pitching prospects, leaving just Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt if anything happens. While Schmidt lengthens himself out in Triple-A, the Bombers are going to run out German and his 6.39 ERA.

Many in the industry have been wondering if the Yankees were trying to flip Bader for another front-end starter and the second part of the deal fell through. Thursday, speaking on two New York radio shows, GM Brian Cashman was adamant that the Montgomery trade for Bader was a straight-up deal and not part of a bigger, multi-team deal that fell through at the last minute.

He also made it clear this was a deal made to make the Yankees more dangerous in October.

Bader, a New York native who went to Riverdale’s Horace Mann High School, isn’t going to make the Yankees lineup more dangerous, but he could be a very specific weapon in the playoffs.

The 28-year-old center fielder isn’t going to be an offensive threat, though he could lengthen the bottom of the lineup. Before being shut down with plantar fasciitis, Bader was hitting .256/.303/.370 with five home runs and a .673 OPS in 72 games. That’s a little down from the .258/.327/.457 with 20 homers he hit from 2020-21.

When healthy, which is expected to be in September, Bader could slide into a regular rotation in the outfield, allowing Giancarlo Stanton, who will also be coming off the IL at some point, to DH for a while to ease back. He can be used when they want to get Aaron Judge off his feet.

But Bader wasn’t brought in for September, it’s strictly about the playoffs

And he should be used regularly late in postseason games. He is obviously the best defensive choice in center field and should be playing the final innings there. Bader’s speed is ranked among the top 94th percentile, making him a threat to steal a base. That can be huge in close playoff games when getting into scoring position or beating a throw home can be the difference between advancing or heading home early.