Aaron Hicks
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The return of New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks could not come at a more convenient time for the club.

Once again, the New York Yankees get a key piece back.

Per several sources, the team will activate outfielder Aaron Hicks off the injured list Monday. The switch-hitting center fielder had not played since early March due to a lower back strain. Hicks received two cortisone shots before starting baseball activities again last month.

And the timing of this could not be any more perfect. The Yankees just took two of three from the first-place Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Starting Monday, the Bronx Bombers get three at home versus the lowly Baltimore Orioles before a weekend tilt against the Rays again, this time in their own, well-lit park.

These games may not seem important but keep in mind, the Yankees are only a half-game behind Tampa Bay entering play on Monday. First place in the AL East is well within reach.

That means if Aaron Hicks‘ bat is right, New York could not only be in a position to take over first place but also build a lead over rival teams.

An Underrated Piece

Over the past two seasons, Aaron Hicks very quietly had solid performances for the Yankees. Injuries limited him to just 88 games total in 2017, but he hit a career-high .266 and set new career marks with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. The injuries were concerning but considering Hicks only hit .217 in his first year with the Yankees, the bounceback was a pleasant surprise.

Hicks followed up with another career year in 2018. He only hit .248 and missed time early with a strain in his ribs, but also slugged 27 homers with 79 RBI. Far too often in the past two seasons, Hicks emerged a hero with clutch home runs.

All in all, Hicks posted a combined 8.2 WAR over those two seasons. He proved with regular playing time, he could become a lineup staple and reliable defender in the outfield. His career DRS of 10 and 11.6 UZR show just that.

That was all the Yankees needed to see to offer him up a seven-year, $70 million extension at the start of spring training.

Now, it’s time for Hicks to prove he’s worth the investment. In this case, the timing is absolutely perfect.

A Walk In The Park

To understand the timing of Aaron Hicks’ return, let’s take a look at the Yankees’ upcoming schedule. Eighteen total games remain in May, 10 of which are against last-place teams in the Kansas City Royals and the aforementioned Orioles.

It just so happens when it comes to these two teams, Hicks’ career numbers are pretty solid. He is a .275 hitter with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 46 games against Baltimore. The numbers versus Kansas City are similar, as Hicks has hit .271 with seven homers and 19 RBI in 43 games against the Royals.

Not only that, but Hicks coming back to the lineup signifies something of a return to normalcy for the Yankees. Star sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are still injured with no set timetables for a return. Sunday’s lineup featured only three players who were on last year’s Opening Day roster.

This team needs some veteran power in the lineup, and Aaron Hicks should provide plenty of that upon his return.

Lineup Balance

Speaking of the Yankees’ lineup, Hicks also brings some much-needed variety.

Consider this for a minute. The Yankees have just two left-handed hitters on the active roster right now: Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman. That leaves a lineup so righty-heavy, you’d think the team was protesting Ned Flanders.

Hicks, on the other hand, is a switch-hitter. This allows manager Aaron Boone to get creative with the lineup as opposed to just stacking righties because it’s all he has available. He could make Hicks the new cleanup hitter, or bat him third, sandwiched between dangerous behemoths Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez. The possibilities are truly endless.

Final Thoughts

The best news of all, however, is Aaron Hicks will finally be on the field this season. Injuries have ravaged the Yankees all year and though the team is in a strong position despite that, the fans deserve the best. No more should they have to hold their breath when anyone outside the top third of the order comes up to bat.

Hicks’ return shows the team finally able to move away from that. The team is in a prime position to get back to its powerful ways starting with him, especially with some lighter competition on the horizon.

Because little by little, bit by bit, piece by piece, the Yankees regulars are coming back. It may not seem like it, but the team is slowly returning to top form. With Aaron Hicks returning, here’s hoping the New York baseball we know and love does too.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.