Considering Aaron Hicks…
As we all know, Aaron Hicks is in the last year of team control before he becomes a free agent. It seems time to consider what the Yankees long term plans for him should be.
Traditionally the Yankees have not extended players while they were still under team control. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were notable exceptions to this rule that worked out very well for the team. In addition, I’ve always thought that this was old school thinking. The Old Yankees used to wait to lock-up their players because they basically had no budget and could outbid anyone for whomever they wanted. With revenue sharing and the new Hal Steinbrenner rationality, that is no longer the case. Teams have more leverage with players under control than they do with free agents, obviously, even though that is certainly less the case with players with one year left before free agency. With this in mind, the Yankees might want to reconsider their current practice in this area.
Let’s look at what the Yankees should do with center fielder Aaron Hicks.
Aaron Hicks Is Really Good
Aaron Hicks is one of those guys that was always an object of lust for statheads, but was a late bloomer in the majors. His walk rates were always above 10% in the minors (he was at 17% in 2010) and he flashed power. He also plays a premium defensive position (center field) – and plays it well.
But it wasn’t until his age 27 season in 2017 that he broke out with the Yankees. In only 88 games, he was 3.3 games better than a replacement player (WAR). That averages out to around 6 WAR over a full season. To give some context, there were only nine position players with 6 or more WAR in 2018. Hicks followed this up in 2018 with a 4.9 WAR season in only 137 games in 2018 (again, around 6 WAR for a full year). Other than Mike Trout and maybe Lorenzo Cain, he’s the best center fielder in the game when healthy.
Hicks has also shown some serious power. He hit 15 home runs in 2017 and 27 in 2018. His walk rate was 15.5% in 2018 and his strikeout rate was under 20%. These are all very good numbers.
Kudos is offered to Brian Cashman for basically stealing Hicks from the Twins in the trade for JR Murphy. This was a great deal by Cashman.
Of course, as we have seen, the only issue with Aaron Hicks is whether or not he can stay healthy.
Hicks As He Ages
Hicks will be a free agent in 2020 which will be his age 30 season. He’ll be at or just past his peak. Offensively, he does have “Old Man Skills” which are plate discipline and power. He could certainly decline defensively, requiring a shift to left field.
Yankee Replacement Options
The center field heir apparent in the farm system is Estevan Florial. In 2018, Florial played a half season at high A Tampa and was hurt half the year. His walk rate was 13% and his strikeout rate (25.7%) was below the scary 31.9% he had in 2017 at Low A. He’s also flashed power. If Florial can stay healthy and continue to progress, he could be a Yankee in 2021.
Other than Florial, the Yankees have no one on the roster or coming up through the system they should realistically want to play center for the next few years, at least.
I’d love to see the Yankees sign Aaron Hicks to a 4 year contract if they can make it happen. Hicks should still be a 4 win player when healthy and he could certainly move to left field in a year or two to reduce injury concerns and remain a productive player. Players like Hicks who have plate discipline and power are not easy to find. If the Yankees can sign him at a reasonable price, they should lock him up.