2022 Center Field Targets? – Aaron Hicks
Two weeks ago I looked at who I think would be best for the Yankees shortstop problem in 2022. I landed on Amed Rosario as the best option. Last week I looked at who I think would be best for the Yankees first base problem in 2022. I landed on Freddie Freeman as the best option.
This week, I look to center field to see if there are any good solutions for the Yankees going forward. Yesterday we looked at one former-ish Yankee, today we look at the current Yankees center fielder under contract: Aaron Hicks.
Aaron Hicks: A Quick Overview
Aaron Hicks was the 14th overall pick in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Woodrow Wilson High School (Long Beach, CA) by the Minnesota Twins, signing on to skip college and play professional ball for $1.78 Million. Aaron Hicks quickly became one of the games top prospects, ranking in the Top-50 by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus as early as pre-2009. By Baseball America, he topped out at #19 pre-2010, by Baseball Prospects, he topped out at #26 pre-2010, and by MLB.com he topped out at #72 pre-2012. After spending 2008-2012 in the minor leagues, Aaron Hicks made his MLB debut for the Twins on April 1st, 2013, however he continued to split meaningful time between the MLB and the MiLB from 2013-2015, some for injury recovery others for performance. After the 2015 season, Aaron Hicks was traded to the New York Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy on November 11th. After spending his final pre-arb and 3 arbitration years with the Yankees, he was signed to a 7-Year/$70 Million contract for the 2019-2025 seasons (with a 2026 club option).
Over his career, Aaron Hicks has hit to a combined .233/.330/.399 (.729 OPS/98 OPS+) extended triple-slash with 565 hits, 92 home runs, and 311 RBI’s in 740 games over parts of 9 years. He’s put in 5,917.2 innings in the outfield with 4,864.2 innings in center field in his career to an overall +1 DRS and +15.7 UZR and a -4 DRS and +8.4 UZR specifically in center field. Combined, he’s accumulated +12.3 bWAR/+12.9 fWAR.
In 2021, Aaron Hicks had one of the worst seasons of his career. He hit to a .194/.294/.333 (.627 OPS/73 OPS+) extended triple-slash with 21 hits, 4 home runs, and 14 RBI’s over 32 games. He also played in 272.2 innings in center field to a -4 DRS and +0.1 UZR. Combined, he put up -0.3 bWAR/+0.1 fWAR.
Aaron Hicks has also been a regular on the disabled/injury list year-in and year-out since he’s become an MLB player. In short (which is a joke for his injury history) comes the following:
2013 – Left hamstring strain (about 3 weeks) + undisclosed MiLB injury (7 days) 2014 – Concussion symptoms (7 days) 2015 – Strained right forearm (about 3 weeks) + strained left hamstring (15 days) 2016 – Right hamstring strain (15 days) 2017 – Right oblique strain (about a month and a half) + left oblique strain (about 3 weeks) 2018 – Right intercostal muscle strain (about 2 weeks) 2019 – Left lower back strain (about a month and a half) + Right flexor strain (about 2 months + postseason) 2020 – None (Yay!) 2021 – Undisclosed injury (2 weeks) + Left wrist injury (4 months + postseason)
The Case For Aaron Hicks:
It can’t get worse for Aaron Hicks…right?
All things being equal, Aaron Hicks can be a good ballplayer. In 2017 he put up a +3.9 bWAR over just 88 games (7 WAR pace) and in 2018 he put up +4.4 bWAR over 137 games. He also put up +1.9 bWAR in 2019 over 59 games (5 WAR pace), and he put up a 122 OPS+ in 2020 (though only a +0.8 bWAR over 54 games). Though his 2021 was not great for Hicks, he does produce good value when’s he’s on the field.
Aaron Hicks is also on a relatively cheap contract with 4-Years and $42 Million left that keeps him under control through 2025, or his age-35 season. (This includes a $1 Million team buyout for the 2026 season.) Aaron Hicks will need to produce just 5.25 WAR between now and then for his remaining contract to be worthwhile (under the 1 WAR= $8 Million framework). Realistically, he should be able to do that.
Maybe, just maybe, Aaron Hicks can come back healthy for 2022. While his 2021 was atrocious, Aaron Hicks did say that he was “literally unable to gold anything” last season. It’s understandable that if you can’t hold anything that you’ll hit under .200. So, there is hope that he can recover.
And maybe, just maybe, Aaron Hicks will be able to play himself into a position where a team is looking for a cheap center field option at the trade deadline, allowing the Yankees to move on from Hicks and his remaining 3.5 years at about $31 Million.
The key to that all is health.
The Simple Pro’s: Potential, Contract, Hope, Trade Value?
The Case Against Aaron Hicks:
Take a moment to go back up to Aaron Hicks’ extensive injury history above. Yikes…that’s 13 injuries that totals to about 14 months of combined missed time since the 2013 season. Considering that each baseball season is about 6 months long (April-September), that’s over 2 years of combined missed time over 9 seasons. This also isn’t including the two postseasons he essentially missed (2019 and 2021), or the most important time for your key players to be on the field.
However, with him being under contract for 4 more seasons, he isn’t a player that the Yankees can just dish away. His current value (according to baseballtradevalues.com) is at -24.2 MTV. That’s tied for 21st worst (with DJ LeMahieu). As much as this is a case against Hicks, the Yankees are in a situation wherein they are pretty much stuck with him.
The Simple Con’s: Injuries and Everything Stemming From That
Aaron Hicks is in a very weird spot for the Yankees and roster building. He’s mostly a sunk cost year-in and year-out because it’s hard to fully believe that he’s going to be healthy and that he can hold down maybe the most important defensive position on the field. Because of this, if Aaron Hicks is the Yankees center field option on paper, they will need somebody else on the roster capable of stepping in and taking over full time CF duties if (when) Hicks goes down with injury in 2022. (This is a large part as to why Brett Gardner has been so valuable to the Yankees.)
He comes with high upside but is almost a guaranteed player to miss time with an injury. Interestingly enough, the former Twins center fielder is very similar to current Twins center fielder Byron Buxton in this regard. They’ll each play well when on the field, but staying on the field is the issue. Hey, credit to each of them: It worked for both to get good-to-great paydays.
Now, I fully believe that Aaron Hicks is going to be on the Yankees roster through at least the end of 2023, barring some unforeseen trade for another player on a bad contract and/or a salary dump move with some prospects to a team willing to take a risk on Hicks. I don’t expect that will happen any time soon.
Hicks will be the Yankees starting center fielder (on paper) for the 2022 season. He’s also not the best option they could put out there, but because they’ve already spent the money on him, they’ll stick with him. If he does well, they’re also not going to move on and they’ll tell us that he’s finally healthy. If he does poorly, we will hear about how his contract is too large (which is a joke) and a big reason why they have to go after mid-level talent to fill holes.
I’m sure Aaron Hicks is a nice guy. Though, my patience with him is done. If I ran the team, I would trade him away in a heartbeat to any team willing to take him.
Think Colorado would trade Charlie Blackmon (-24.0 MTV) for Hicks on a 1-1?
How about a trade for Madison Bumgarner (-35.9 MTV) and a few prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks?