As I watched Aaron Hicks be helped off the field in Game 5 of the 2022 ALDS, I figured it was the last time I would ever watch him play for the Yankees. He was only on the postseason roster because of injuries to others and was only playing in an actual postseason game because of those injuries.
Hicks had spent the summer hitting into double plays with the bases loaded, stranding every runner at third with less than two outs, going two-month stretches between home runs and misplaying balls in both center field and left field. Each time he lost a starting role because of underperformance he found his way back into the lineup because of injuries. He was benched more times than Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio were unnecessarily sent down, and no benching was more embarrassing then when he misplayed a ball in left field and was pulled from the lineup midgame by the most player-friendly manager in the sport. The same player-friendly manager who has still never seen any of his starting pitchers have a bad day and who will tell you with a straight face Isiah Kiner-Falefa is one of the best shortstops in the game and that Aroldis Chapman is good a clubhouse culture guy.
It’s been more than three months since Hicks was helped off the field and since the Yankees’ season ended the same way it has in every season in which Hicks has been part of the core: without a championship. With each passing day that Hicks is still listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, the chances I saw his last moment in pinstripes diminish. Spring training is now three weeks away, Opening Day is about as close to today as today is removed from Thanksgiving and Hicks is still a Yankee.
The only path to removing Hicks from the Yankees has been and continues to be to release him. No team wants Hicks and the $31,357,144 owed to him. No team wants a 33-year-old outfielder who is coming off a .216/.330/.313 season in which he was benched multiple times and answered being benched by performing even worse than the performance that led to the benching. No team wants a player who has missed 40 percent of his team’s games over the last seven years or an outfield bat that has hit 30 home runs total in the last four years.
The Yankees owe Hicks $31,357,144 and there’s nothing they can do about it. If any of the other 29 teams were willing to eat even $1 million of that owed amount, he would likely have been gone by now. But no team wants him. This isn’t a pay David Justice to play for the A’s or pay A.J. Burnett to play for the Pirates or pay Brian McCann to play for the Braves. This is more like a pay Jacoby Ellsbury to do nothing. The Yankees have certainly come to terms that the remaining money on Hicks’ deal is a sunk cost since the last two years have been a sunk cost.
The Yankees believe if they’re going to have to release him for nothing to remove him from the roster, they might as well start the season with him and in terms of his production, hope to catch lightning in a bottle, and then catch lightning in a second, bigger bottle and put that first bottle of lightning in that bigger bottle, and then catch lightning in an even bigger bottle a third time and put the first two bottles of lightning in that third bottle.
Releasing Hicks would mean eating that $31,357,144. The Steinbrenners just gave $360 million of their inheritance to Aaron Judge and another $162 million to Carlos Rodon. They had to save somewhere this offseason and that somewhere is left field. Paying Hicks more than $31 million to not play baseball is not an option. That’s why Brian Cashman didn’t surprise me with his comments on MLB Network on Monday. All he did was confirm what I already knew.
“I suspect he will be the guy that emerges [in left field],” Cashman said, “Because he is still really talented and everything is there.”
At best, the last time Hicks was “really talented” was during the shortened 2020 season. (He would have missed more than half that season if it had started on time recovering from offseason Tommy John surgery). Weeks before the 2021 season started, Hicks was anointed the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter. After 32 games, he needed season-ending wrist surgery. Then in 2022, Hicks hit his first home run of the season on April 12 and his second on June 9. From July 10 through the end of the season, he hit two home runs in 190 plate appearances, batting .183/.290/.244.
If you’re of the belief that the further removed Hicks gets from the wrist surgery, the more his power will improve because the same thing happened to Mark Teixeira, that would mean you think Hicks’ power pre-surgery was comparable to Teixeira’s prior to his own surgery. That’s not grasping at straws. That’s grasping at air.
Here is a more comparable player to Hicks based on 162-game averages:
Hicks: .231/.330/.387, 21 doubles, 19 home runs, 65 RBIs
Player X: .238/.329/.427, 29 doubles, 19 home runs, 64 RBIs
Player X is Clint, sorry, Jackson Frazier. Frazier was released by the Yankees for nothing and designated for assignment by the shitty Cubs. Hicks is going to start in left field on Opening Day for a team that thinks they can win the World Series.
“Hopefully we can get the Aaron Hicks we know is in there back as a consistent player for us,” Cashman continued.
Who exactly is the “Aaron Hicks we know is in there?” Is it the Hicks, whose best offensive seasons were a product of the juiced baseball, (just like Gleyber Torres)? Is it the Hicks who has played in 623 of a possible 1,032 regular-season games (60 percent) as a Yankee? Is it the Hicks who has had a wrist and elbow surgically repaired in the last three years and who has had season-ending injuries in three of the last four years? Is it the Hicks whose injuries and underachieving forced the Yankees to trade prospects for Joey Gallo then trade more prospects for Andrew Benintendi and trade rotation depth in Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader?
I think the Hicks we know is in there is the Hicks who lost his starting role multiple times for lack of performance and who was pulled during a game for a lack of effort. It’s the Hicks who told The Athletic this last August:
“If I’m a guy that’s in the lineup, cool. If I’m not, it is what it is.”
If I were ownership or the front office I would expect a little more fire and motivation about being in the lineup, especially from a player who is under contract through at least 2025 before eventually being bought out for $1 million in 2016 to not play baseball for the Yankees. Saying it’s “cool” if you play “but it is what it is” if you don’t doesn’t make Hicks sound like a good teammate and team-first guy, it makes him sound like a loser. Hicks talks like a guy who signed a seven-year, $70 million guaranteed contract because he is that guy.
I have long wanted Hicks off the Yankees, and was vehemently against the extension he was offered in 2019. (The keyword there is “offered.” The extension and the endless treatment of him as if he’s Bernie Williams 2.0 is all on the Yankees. They created this mess. What is Hicks supposed to do? Not accept $70 million to play baseball?) I have been appalled year after year in their belief he could stay healthy and be productive and be counted on to be an everyday player for the Yankees. But after his performance and effort last season, his maintaining a roster spot this offseason and Cashman’s comments this week, this is way past being appalled.
Hicks isn’t going to get the chance to be the starting left fielder because the Yankees believe in him. He’s going to get the chance because of owed money and then because there’s no other option.
Owed money is king for the Yankees and controls all decision making. The Yankees would rather lose than have owed money sitting on the bench in favor of a better, less expensive player. When envisioning a possible Yankees lineup, the first thing you need to do is scrap everything related to on-the-field play and go right to the payroll.
Hicks checks that box with the money he still has coming to him. And to further help his case, there’s currently no other options.
The Yankees don’t want to pigeonhole Oswaldo Cabrera into one position. After unsuccessfully trying to turn Tyler Wade into their own Ben Zobrist, they want Cabrera to fit that role. They would rather have Cabrera play a different position around the field each day to give other regulars unnecessary rest, even if it means playing an unplayable Hicks in left field every day to prove they are smarter and more cutting edge than other teams. That leaves Estevan Florial or Willie Calhoun.
The Yankees have never been willing to give an extended look to Florial, and as recently as last August they called him up to what Aaron Boone said was “to play every day” only to then not play him. As for Calhoun, his best chance at playing baseball in New York this coming summer prior to getting a contract with the Yankees was with the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League. The Yankees are set to have their highest payroll in organization history and don’t have a true answer at one of their everyday positions.
“We certainly have our lines out on certain opportunities,” Cashman said, “But trying to match up is never easy.”
That’s Cashman’s way of saying he has unsuccessfully tried to move Hicks and has unsuccessfully tried to sign or trade for an actual left fielder.
“If it happens in February or March, so be it,” Cashman said. “But if not, we are prepared to go with what we have.”
What they have is going into yet another season with a hole in left field.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!