When Aaron Hicks said his goal was to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in 2022, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was as realistic of a goal as me looking to be part of the Yankees’ rotation in 2022. Hicks had never hit 30 home runs in a season, and had never hit more than 15 outside of the 27 he hit in 2018 at a time when the baseball was juiced more than Alex Rodriguez ever was with the Rangers. (He didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs as a Yankee!) His career high in steals was 13 back when he was 25 years old, before he became a Yankee. So yeah, me slotting in as the Yankees’ No. 5 starter was about as likely as Hicks doubling his non-juiced ball career high in home runs and stealing 57 percent more bases than he ever had in a single season.
Some people might defend Hicks for shooting for the moon. It’s good to have goals! Hicks’ goal of being the first 30/30 Yankee since peak Alfonso Soriano wasn’t a goal, it was a dream. A pipe dream. He should have made a goal of not going on the injured list for an entire season as a Yankee, something he has never been able to accomplish, but while still unrealistic, it was at least something to strive for (and something he actually has achieved to date this season).
The Yankees have played 110 games, and Hicks has played in 97 of them. He has six home runs and nine steals. Earlier this week, he told The Athletic he’s “definitely going to be short” of joining the 30/30 club. (He only needs to hit 24 home runs and steal 27 bases in the team’s final 52 games.)
The problem is Hicks won’t come close to playing in all of those games. Once Giancarlo Stanton returns, and if Harrison Bader plays for the Yankees this season, Hicks will be the odd man out in the outfield. The Yankees didn’t trade for both Andrew Benintendi and Bader to not play them. Hicks will be the one on the bench, and rightfully so, after failing to take advantage of endless opportunities since becoming a Yankee and signing a seven-year extension prior to the 2019 season.
Hicks went from everyday center fielder to everyday left fielder to now looking at being an everyday bench player once the Yankees get healthy. This year he’s hitting .224/.349/.317 and that’s coming off last season when he was appointed as 3-hitter in spring training and then hit .194/.294/.333, lasting only 32 games before needing season-ending wrist surgery.
That surgery on the sheath of his wrist sapped his power (or what there ever was of his power) like it has to others that have had the same surgery. When he homered in three of four games from July 6 through July 9, the idea his power (or what he has ever had of it) was returning was a common theme among Yankees fans for those four days. But July 9 was the last time Hicks homered. A month ago. And in the 23 games he has played in over the last month, he’s hitting .171/.318/.171 (yes, slugging .171 over the last month), highlighted by an 0-for-32 streak that went for nearly two weeks.
“I started off the season good,” Hicks told The Athletic. “I was hitting for a high average for a while. I wasn’t really hitting for much power.”
When Hicks says he “started off the season good” he means literally the start of the season and no more. He was “good” for nine games (seven starts). He hit .348/.464/.478 over the first week of the season. Then he put together back-to-back 0-for-4s and it’s been downhill since. The last time his average was above .300 was on April 20. The last time it was above .275 was on May 3. The last time it was at.250 was on May 9. It’s at .223 today with 13 extra-base hits.
Hicks’ on-base percentage has carried his OPS (he has a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage) because while he can’t hit, he is smart enough to take walks. His approach at the plate has always been to not swing and hope the pitcher throws four balls before he throws three strikes, and it works out for him often. (I wish more Yankees would have this approach.)
“All we’re trying to do is win a championship here,” Hicks told The Athletic. “So 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 for next season and the season after that and the season after that and then will be bought out for $1 million to not play baseball for the Yankees the season after that. 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. And since receiving that extension, he has played in 242 of a possible 494 regular-season games (49 percent).
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.
It seems like the Yankees finally agree. By trading for two outfielders in Benintendi and Bader they made it clear they no longer believe in Hicks being the player he told The Athletic he “knows he can be,” which is a player he has rarely ever been in his seven years with the Yankees. Hicks is only playing now because of injuries and the only way he will play regularly for the rest of the regular season and the postseason will be because of injuries.
If Hicks has a future with the Yankees as the fourth outfielder, “cool.” If his future in baseball after this season isn’t with the Yankees, well, “it is what it is.”
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!