The Tuesday Discussion: What To Do About CF?
May 24, 2022
This week we asked our writers:
Aaron Hicks is having an awful year. What should the Yankees do about Aaron Hicks and center field?
Here are their responses...
James Vlietstra - Aaron Hicks is going to be a difficult decision. When the Yankees signed him to his 7 year contract, he was an elite defensive center fielder with above average speed and the strongest outfield arm on record. His slash line was .250/.370/.470/.840 over 2 years.
This year, the only thing that he is bringing to the table is a OBP around .340. His slugging is a pathetic .250. Since his TJ surgery his arm is a rubber noodle. And recently he’s appeared to not be hustling.
He has 3 years plus an option after this year on his contract. As this point, he is not a starting center fielder of a championship team. He has no trade value. To dump him, it’ll cost the Yankees $8 Million a year.
What I see happening… the Yankees will package him with a couple of rule 5 eligible players and $20M to bring back a couple of lottery ticket players with 2-3 years until they have to be protected. The team they trade with won’t be taking on much financial obligations and will be adding 2-3 players that are almost Major League ready that wouldn’t get a chance with the Yankees.
The outfield alignment of Gallo LF, Judge XF, Stanton RF 4 days a week with Florial in CF the other days would be their best solution for this year
Lincoln Mitchell - One of the stupider takes about this year’s Yankees team is that it doesn’t matter if they get not production form the catcher’s spot because the rest of the team hits well and defense is what matters behind the plate. This is relevant to Hicks because the Yankees are in danger of having a very short lineup without much production at the bottom. They are a team that is more oriented on pitching and defense now, but in the post-season, teams need ot hit from top to bottom.
This is a roundabout way of getting to Hicks. My view on this is that the first thing the Yankees need to do is recognize the limits of what Hicks can do. He has not power and is not a great defender, but he can get on base and play passable defense. So, he is not destroying the team’s offense so long as he bats in the leadoff or nine spots and only against pitchers where the matchup favors him. My sense is that while the Yankees do not need to go out and get a centerfielder, they must bolster their outfield depth. That may be a combination of Florial and Locastro or it may mean acquiring the right role player.
Chris O'Connor - There is no easy answer to this question. Let's look at the options. Hicks is making $10.5 million this season and next and then will make $9.5 million in 2024 and 2025. The Yankees structured his contract so that Hicks is signed for low-ish AAV, but the cost of that was that the team needed to sign him for seven years to make it happen. A trade is unlikely given that long-term commitment, even at the low salary. The only way that I could see that happening is if the Yankees attach prospects to him in a salary dump, but that does not make much sense for a team that has the best record in the majors. Sending him down to the minor leagues is not an option due to his service time. The Yankees could either designate him for assignment and eat the contract or transition him to a bench role.
The problem with that is the Yankees are very thin in center. Aaron Judge is a capable center fielder, and he very well may play there in the postseason. But for the long grind of the regular season, the Yankees seem to want to keep him in right. Stanton and Gallo cannot play center, so if they put Hicks on the bench, they would need to call up someone like Estevan Florial and have Hicks be the fifth outfielder. That is untenable for a team that already has one too many infielders. So they can either cut him or let him play through the struggles, and I think they should let him work through it. He still has a .341 OBP this season and hit for a 112 OPS+ as recently as 113 games played between 2019-2020. He is on thin ice, so if he continues to struggle by the trade deadline, I think they may have to cut their losses. But their hot start has afforded them time to be patient, and this version of Hicks would have no role in the playoffs if it comes to that anyway. I have been as frustrated with Hicks as any, but there is not much that they can do at the moment that would be helpful long-term.
Tim Kabel - I entered this season convinced that Aaron Hicks would not have a good year. So far, I have been correct. He is essentially a mediocre hitter, who is not even the best defensive centerfielder on the team. I think there needs to be a serious upgrade at the position. If they cannot acquire a top-notch centerfielder in a trade, they should look to Estevan Florial and give him the job. He may not be much better but, we will never know unless we try. He does have the ability to drive the ball and may turn out to be a fairly decent hitter. If they are reluctant to do that, then Aaron Judge will need to play centerfield more than the team would like him to. Aaron Hicks should be either traded, or relegated to the role of the fourth outfielder. Actually, he would be the fifth outfielder. His days of being the starting centerfielder should come to an end almost immediately.
Paul Semendinger - For over a year, I have been saying the same name... Cedric Mullins. He's young enough (27) and a left-handed hitter. I think the Orioles will be trading him, the Yankees should get in on that. I'm not afraid to trade top minor leaguers for solid big leaguers. This is a player the Yankees need. I'd make the Orioles a nice deal and get him now, not at the deadline.
Ethan Semendinger - According to BaseballTradeValues.com Aaron Hicks is tied in ranking as the 21st worst player with a -32.6 MTV (their metric- in terms of millions of dollars- comparing contract length, size, and expected production during that time). Obviously this means trade partners would be hard to find...though there are two interesting names that are close by. Hicks is owed about $40M over the next 4 years (including this season).
James McCann (-20.8 MTV) is due about $30M over the next 3 years (including this season), is a catching option, and had some promise after leaving Chicago for New York (NL) in 2021. I was a huge supporter of McCann as a free agent and think he has some promise, BUT he's also hit to a 74 OPS+ while with the Mets from 2021-2022. Attach a current catcher (Higgy or Trevino) and a prospect and maybe a deal could be made?
Jason Heyward (-32.6 MTV) is due about $40M over the next 2 years (including this season). Could he see a bump in hitting as a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium? At one point he was going to be the next "Hank Aaron" and his career...well it didn't turn out that way. However, with the money balancing out he would be a great OF option off the bench. Again, the Yankees could attach a prospect to get the Cubs to cover some money (a move they made a lot recently) to lessen the burden.
Cary Greene - I had fun with this one! Great question! My answer may surprise you and NO - Aaron Hicks should not be the Yankees center fielder at this point.
Aaron Hicks has a .341 OBP, which is 5th best on the team. Who would Yankee fans rather see in centerfield, if not Aaron Hicks? Well, compared to the Mets Starling Marte, who I very much wanted the Yankees to prioritize as a free agent this offseason, who’s OBP is .312, Aaron Hicks at first glance compares favorably. He gets on base at a much higher rate than Marte does. However, Hicks is only “hitting” (if you want to call it that) to a mere .212 Average. Marte is hitting .270 right now with a wOBA of .324 - compared to Hicks’s wOBA of .281. Therefore, Hicks isn’t a very good offensive player. This November, I envisioned Starling Marte leading off for the Yankees and bringing a baserunning dynamic to the offense that was sorely lacking in 2021. In fairness to Aaron Hicks though, he didn’t play much at all in 2021. When we consider Hick’s value as a base runner, we start to understand why the Yankees are content to live with his subpar batsmanship. Hicks’s BsR is #1 on the team (1.0) which is basically identical to Starling Marte’s 1.1 which plays pretty well on this Yankees team - if we’re looking for a player who bats ninth in the lineup. Starling Marte's days of playing center field may be over and defensively, he's not as good as Hicks - who isn't very good either. Let's look at the Yankee reality right now and see what "could" be done about it. -- Not that I expect what I want to happen will actually happen. Aaron Boone has done as good a job as he can of limiting Hick’s plate appearances, currently Hicks is 8th on the team (127). It’s no secret that teams game plan for the Yankees by stacking right-handed pitchers - I’m talking about Starters AND Relievers! Let’s face it, the Yankees still are not a very balanced lineup. Besides Aaron Hicks, the only other left-handed batters on the roster are Anthony Rizzo and Marwin Gonzalez (not including Scranton Shuttle BusRider, er, I mean, Scranton RailRider Estevan Florial who is presently enjoying a “Demi” sized cup of coffee with the “Big Show.” It will only be a mere matter of hours before Florial is sent back down. Compounding this problem is that Hicks, though he stands in the batters box as if he hits left-handed (zing), he only hits .200 against right-handed pitching. Suffice it to say, he’s not effective when “looking” left-handed. (I could have said, “when batting” but I staunchly refuse to do that apparently.) Brain Cashman should have been very aggressive this offseason, looking to acquire a center fielder in case Hicks a) got injured again or b) was ineffective. After all, he hasn’t exactly played much since 2018. Is anyone really surprised that he’s taking some time to get back into the groove? If you are, you shouldn’t be. Cashman’s big move this offseason in the center field department was to quietly sign Ender Inciarte as a depth piece. Inciarte is batting .305 in Scranton right now, sporting a glittering .365 OBP and an .827 OPS to go along with a .370 wOBA. Remember, Hicks has a .281 wOBA presently with the Yankees. Defensively, Inciarte is an elite centerfielder. Hicks is several rungs below even being a good defensive center fielder and in fact, he’s proving defensively that the juice is no longer worth the squeeze. The “in-house” solution to the conundrum that Aaron Hicks is causing is to promote Inciarte and inject him into the lineup regularly. He’s an excellent leadoff hitter, a very good base runner and he hits left-handed - at a much higher clip than Aaron Hicks does. Promoting Inciarte is a tough-minded baseball decision, it’s a reminder that baseball is a business. Promoting Inciarte also allows the Yankees to play Hicks less and let him hit right handed more, where he’s a lot more comfortable and successful. The Yankees have Tim Locastro getting ready to come back up and while Locastro is a game changer in a pinch runner role and is otherwise an excellent spark plug type player, Inciarte could once again be the real deal in center field. I think the Yankees “should” promote Inciarte immediately but I know they won’t! Here’s why. Inciarte would be exposed to waivers if he were sent back down. He’s strictly a depth piece - blocked by the reality of his contract. Unfortunately, though the time is ripe for the Yankees to make a bold gamble, they won’t do it. Instead, we’ll see players with options remaining called up first. That means we’ll see Florial until Locastro is ready. Why? Locastro has 1 option remaining, which means the Yankees can move him up and down all they like this year. Who’s the best defensive center fielder between Hicks, Inciarte or Locastro? Inciarte hands down. Who’s the best overall base runner? It’s close between all three, believe it or not, Locastro might be the worst. Hicks has better instincts and Inciarte has declined from “off the charts elite” to a tick worse than Hicks. Who’s the best hitter and the best overall offensive player? Inciarte, pretty easily.
Fans often don’t understand that baseball really is a business. From Brian Cashman’s perspective, what if Hicks blows his elbow out and Locastro breaks his ankle, all in the same stretch of the season? If that happened, is Florial really an everyday major leaguer? Probably not, so it would be nice having Inciarte around because he likely is THAT guy - an every day type player. Confused yet? Me too!
Andy Singer – Which of the following players would you rather have, without knowing anything else about them:
Player A: .306/.426/.367, 16.1% BB%, 14.5% K%
Player B: .123/.275/.140, 15.9% BB%, 27.5% K%
This isn’t a particularly difficult choice, as all of us would choose Player A. Player A doesn’t hit for power, but walks more than he strikes out, makes contact, and gets on-base at an elite clip. Ready for the big reveal? Player A is Aaron Hicks in April; Player B is Aaron Hicks in May. The sample sizes are almost identical, so there’s no trickery on that front, either. Aaron Hicks is a streaky, imperfect ballplayer, and there are certainly a host of players (most of whom are unavailable on the trade market) who are better centerfielders. However, what we are witnessing is a slump. I expect some rebound over the long haul, though I fear that Hicks’ power will be sapped for the remainder of the year by the wrist surgery he had to repair the torn tendon sheath in his wrist last year, as wrist injuries typically take well over a year for full strength recovery. Hicks still runs well and has elite plate discipline, and if we get some middle ground between Aaron Hicks in April and Aaron Hicks in May, he should be an acceptable option. Now, if he continues this horrid stretch through June, then we have a different conversation on our hands. I also believe that the Yankees should be on the lookout for an upgrade outside the organization, and I have no doubt but that Cashman and crew are doing just that. However, as ugly as it looks right now, a little more patience is required in this scenario.