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Bader, Cardinals agree on two-year contract, avoid arbitration, sources say

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With his Gold Glove goal already in hand, Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader is closer to running down another career ambition.

The Cardinals and their golden outfielder plan to finalize a two-year extension as soon as Sunday, a source confirmed to the Post-Dispatch. The contract, which guarantees Bader slightly more than $10 million, allows the club to avoid an arbitration hearing. For Bader, it gets him closer to what he’s often discussed — staying with the team that drafted him.

“I want to be a Cardinal, and I want to stay a Cardinal,” Bader said before referencing Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. “And I don’t have to look far for a couple of teammates who have been Cardinals for life. I don’t want to play anywhere else. I want to do all I can to have the chance to stay here.”

A deal with Bader leaves Tyler O’Neill as the only Cardinal headed toward an arbitration hearing, though the club and their left fielder have continued to discuss a multi-year extension.

Because of the lockout, arbitration hearings have been pushed into the regular season with the plan to hold them on an off day. A hearing for O’Neill has not been scheduled, a source confirmed.

The Cardinals filed a salary offer of $3.4 million for O’Neill, and the left fielder’s representative countered with an ask of $4.15 million. An arbiter will choose between those two numbers if a hearing is held. Until the hearing, O’Neill will be paid based on the team offer, but if his side wins the arbitration he’ll receive back pay — plus interest, according to a source.

Bader and the Cardinals were unable to come to an agreement before the March 22 deadline to exchange figures. He requested $4.8 million, and the team offered $3.8 million. The contract being finalized will pay him $4.7 million in the first year with a $1 million bonus, a source confirmed. His salary in 2023 will be higher if incentives are reached based on plate appearances, similar to the arbitration process.

The extension covers his final two years of arbitration eligibility and would take him to free agency after the 2023 season.

Cardinals officials do not comment until a deal is finalized, per team policy.

Bader, 27, was the Cardinals’ third-round draft pick in 2015, and he reached the majors in 2017 and became a regular as part of the shift toward defense late in 2018. Since 2019, Bader leads all National League center fielders with 31 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and in 2021 he won the Rawlings’ Gold Glove Award at the position. Bader coupled the defensive award with a career-high 16 homers, .267 average, .460 slugging, and .785 OPS in 103 games.

“St. Louis opened its arms to me since I stepped up, the front office and the fans have had my back,” Bader said Saturday night. “Having the potential (for an extension) is what I wanted, and then doing all I can to make sure it sets up for something longer term.”

Waino readies vs. Pujols & Co.

Ahead of the thunderstorms that forced the cancelation of Saturday night’s scheduled exhibition game against Houston, the Cardinals rewrote their pitching plans and had Adam Wainwright pitch against teammates on the back fields for his final appearance before a start Thursday, opening day. The right-hander threw 89 pitches in a simulated game that allowed the Cardinals to test him with a variety of situations and facing the same hitters as many as seven times.

In front of Cardinals officials and his family, Wainwright faced Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, O’Neill, and Dylan Carlson in a loop, having to shift his pitch sequencing each time.

“I don’t think an audience does anything for him (as much as) it’s more the cat and mouse game of figuring out sequences to get guys out,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We were able to put runners in different situations for him and try to pick him apart that way, where he had to pay more attention to (Lars) Nootbaar. The combination of controlled environment and being able to do what we want is advantageous.”

Wainwright will lead the rotation into the four-game season-opening series against Pittsburgh, and he will be followed by Miles Mikolas on Saturday, Steven Matz for the Sunday game and Dakota Hudson will start April 11.

Wainwright got through five innings Saturday, and the veteran said it’s a reasonable stride to go from the four up-and-downs of five innings to throwing more than 100 pitches and covering at least six innings against Pittsburgh on Thursday at Busch Stadium.

“I felt good, got to get my pitch count up, got to face really, really tough hitters,” Wainwright said. “They grinded me. I was looking for the first pitch rollovers. No one gave me any of those. Which was kind of annoying.”

Flaherty begins throwing program

After two weeks without throwing because of bursitis in his right shoulder, pitcher Jack Flaherty started Saturday the steps of a throwing program before taking to the field for a game of catch. Although starting the season on the injured list, Flaherty will travel with the team to St. Louis and relocate his rehab there until he advances to a point that facing hitters in extended spring training will be necessary.

The right-hander received a platelet-rich plasma injection two weeks ago to tame the inflammation inside his shoulder joint. Flaherty said at the time that his mechanics had changed coming out of last season’s oblique injury and shoulder soreness, and that he intended to use recovery time to address those and avoid future discomfort.

“He is progressing as planned right now, spot on,” Marmol said.

Manager Molina & more

Yadier Molina has yet to open his final regular season with the Cardinals and already has his first post-retirement gig lined up. Molina will manage the Navengantes del Magallanes in Venezuela’s winter ball league this upcoming offseason, the team announced .

• The Cardinals are considering having Mikolas pitch on the back fields Monday instead of in a Grapefruit League game. That would clear the innings for the remaining relievers to split on the eve of the regular season. There will be a spillover of innings the Cardinals need to find after relievers such as Kodi Whitley, Gio Gallegos, T. J. McFarland, and rising prospect Jake Walsh did not pitch Saturday night.

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