The New York Yankees need to extend Aaron Hicks before his price gets too high in 2020 and they risk losing him on the open market.
Amidst another season shortened due to injury, Aaron Hicks is still having an excellent year for the New York Yankees. The switch-hitting center fielder has posted an average line of .246/.358/.483, but on Thursday night he upped his new career high with his 20th home run of the season.
A ? and a bat flip ?
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 9, 2018
Hicks has had an up and down year at the plate, sure, but his value in the Yankee lineup speaks for itself. He has one year of arbitration left and if GM Brian Cashman is smart, he’ll start thinking about an extension now.
The Case Against Hicks
Hicks’ brief Yankees tenure can be summarized in two words: lost time. He was limited to 88 games last year because of injuries, but still posted a respectable slash line of .266/.372/.475. Hicks also set then-career highs with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. It was a nice bounce-back from 2016 when he hit just .217 with eight homers and 31 RBI in 123 games.
Hicks has continued his upward trend this year since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins a few years ago. His 20th home run Thursday night gave him a new career-high 53 RBI. Still, this marked the third year in a row he has ended up on the disabled list. His time in a Yankee uniform has been defined as such despite his great work on the field.
Hicks is making just north of $2.8 million this year, and his salary will certainly increase in arbitration next season. That said, though Cashman should extend Hicks, he needs to be careful not to overpay him because of said injury problems.
On top of that, New York will have a lot of decisions to make about the look of the outfield in the future. Depending on the front office’s decisions, Hicks could find himself the odd man out.
A Crowded Outfield
Between the minor league system and upcoming free agent market, New York has an outfield problem. That’s a good thing, so let’s go by position to try and solve it.
Brett Gardner has left field locked down this season and a $12.5 million option for 2019. His defensive runs saved (DRS) sit at 9 and his UZR of 5.4 make him an above average fielder at the position, and his presence as a clubhouse leader also helps his case for coming back next season.
However, outfield defense only goes so far. Gardner’s batting average has dipped to .248 this year. He has just nine home runs and 33 RBI, well below the career-high 21 homers he had last year with 63 RBI. Gardner also turns 35 in two weeks. No disrespect to him, but the team needs to get younger and maybe consider giving Clint Frazier the shot he deserves.
In terms of right field, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are surely more than happy to swap between that spot and DH. However, this is where Bryce Harper’s free agency comes in. He’s only batting .238 on the year but has 28 home runs with 71 RBI. Moreover, Harper is batting .367 this month. You think he’s hot now, just imagine if he had Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field at his beck and call. If the Steinbrenners are willing to open up the coffers, don’t be shocked if Harper is in pinstripes next year, be it in right or left field.
The Centerfield Conundrum
Now, let’s shift the conversation to center. Hicks has proven a fine hitter and a reliable defender at his position but again, the injuries are concerning. It also doesn’t help that the Yankees have an excellent prospect in center in Estevan Florial, who is just 20-years old. Florial has been injured most of this season but has still hit .272 with four homers, 27 RBI and 13 steals between High-A Tampa and rookie ball this year.
Granted, Florial is still very young and has yet to play above High-A, but the Yankees can’t count him out. Even if Hicks continues to play well in his contract year and stays off the DL, what if Florial is tearing it up in the minors? It’s an interesting dilemma for Cashman, to say the least.
The Yankees need to extend Aaron Hicks, and for a couple of reasons. The first is that even with Florial on the rise, he can play all three outfield positions. He can still get a contract extension and be bumped over to left, especially if Frazier is moved in a trade for a pitcher.
The second reason is a bit more detailed. Hicks is a switch-hitting center fielder who plays fine defense, and who also deals with various bumps and bruises that keep him out. Sound familiar, Yankee fans?
That’s right, folks. Aaron Hicks can easily be the second coming of Bernie Williams, albeit on a smaller scale and lower tier from a hitting standpoint. He’s not as strong a hitter for average as Williams, who hit .297 for his career and won the AL batting crown in 1998. Nor is Hicks a strong power hitter, at least at this point. Williams, on the other hand, hit 20 or more home runs six times in 16 years.
Williams is also similar to Hicks in that he often found himself banged up during the season. He only twice played in over 150 games for his career. Between 1996 and 2004, he only reached the 140-game mark six times. That’s not bad and a lot could have been due to maintenance days, but an iron man Williams certainly was not.
Still, enough parallels between the two exist, so Cashman needs to start putting a new deal together soon.
Keep in mind, this isn’t saying Aaron Hicks should receive a multiyear deal worth well over $100 million. His injuries are enough of a concern that the Yankees brass must be careful not to overpay. The last thing this team needs is for Hicks to become another Jacoby Ellsbury.
That said, a five-year, $75 million deal should be plenty to keep Hicks in pinstripes for the foreseeable future. Best case scenario, he continues to grow as a player and is a key member of the lineup for the next few years. The worst case scenario is the team decides to move in a different direction and can easily move his team-friendly deal via trade.
Aaron Hicks is nowhere near appreciated enough, and it’s time to give him his due.