Aaron Hicks had a strange 2019 season for the Yankees. After signing a seven-year, $70 million contract extension, Hicks missed the first 40-plus games on the injured list with a back strain. He was healthy from then until August, when a flexor strain seemed to end his season. Instead, Hicks surprisingly returned for the 2019 ALCS, where he ripped a huge home run off Justin Verlander in a win-or-go-home Game Five.
The Yankees’ season ended shortly after that, and Hicks was dealt a major blow: he needed Tommy John surgery, which put most of his 2020 season in doubt. Hicks should come back at some point this year, but how much will he help the Yankees?
2019 Statistics: 59 games, 255 plate appearances, .235/.325/.443, 12 home runs, 36 RBI, 41 runs, 102 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
2020 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 17 games, 59 plate appearances, .240/.341/.438, 3 home runs, 9 RBI, 9 runs, 107 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR
FanGraphs’s projections for Hicks in 2020 are pretty dire. Although Hicks was slated to miss at least 8-10 months following Tommy John surgery, that should pencil him in for a return after the All-Star Break in either late July or August. I’d bet that when it’s all said and done, Hicks will appear in more than the 17 games that FanGraphs projects for him.
However, the Yankees have a cautionary tale for this type of injury with Didi Gregorius. The shortstop also played through an elbow injury in the playoffs before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and although he returned sooner than expected, the results weren’t there. Gregorius had his worst offensive season since 2015, and ultimately left the Yankees for greener pastures with the Phillies.
Now, Hicks isn’t going anywhere; he’s locked in with the Yankees for six more years. Unlike Gregorius, who was forced out by the rise of Gleyber Torres, the 2019 contract extension proves that the Yankees expect Hicks to serve as their center fielder for the long haul. However, Hicks has had a lengthy injury history, so rushing back could haunt him into his 30s.
Having said that and learned from the Gregorius situation, the Yankees will likely look at the long road when it comes to Hicks. They are covered in the outfield in the meantime, with Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman acting as capable center fielders and a bevy of power-hitting corner outfielders to pick up the offensive slack. If the Yankees play it safe with Hicks, they should still be fine.
When Hicks is deemed healthy enough to return, he’ll resume his role as the starting center fielder, middle-of-the-order switch-hitting bat, and plate discipline extraordinaire. When Hicks played last year, he was mostly himself in spite of the injuries. He struck out more often and hit for a little less power, but still frustrated opposing pitchers with a keen batter’s eye and played excellent defense. He might be a little rusty after several months on the shelf and his power might take awhile to fully return, but some of Hicks’s best attributes (plate discipline, defense and speed) are evergreen and won’t be affected by a recovering elbow.
Tommy John surgery sounds devastating when you first hear it, but the Yankees can likely expect to get some production out of Hicks in 2020. His injury is very unfortunate given the timing of his extension and his importance to the team, but Hicks should be back at full strength right around October, which is when the Yankees will need him most.