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 (with Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were notable exceptions that worked out very well for the team). I’ve always thought that this refusal to extend quality players was old school thinking. The Old Yankees used to wait because they basically had no budget and could outbid anyone for whomever they wanted. With revenue sharing and Hal Steinbrenner rationality, that is no longer the case. Teams do have more leverage with players under control than they do with free agents, obviously even though that is certainly less the case with players like Aaron Hicks with only one year left before free agency.
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).
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. To give some context, there were only 9 position players with 6 or more WAR in 2018. He followed this up in 2018 with a 4.9 season in only 137 games (again around 6 WAR). 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%.
Kudos to Cashman for virtually stealing him from the Twins in a trade for JR Murphy.
The only issue with Hicks is whether he can stay healthy.
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.
Yankee Replacement Options
The center field heir apparent in the farm system is Estevan Florial. 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 flashed power. If he can stay healthy and continue to progress, he could be a Yankee in 2021.
Beyond Florial, the Yankees have no one they should realistically want to play center at this point in time.
I’d love to see the Yankees sign Hicks to a 4 year contract if they can make it happen. He should still be a 4 win player when healthy and he could certainly move to left in a year or two. Players like Aaron 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.