Remember Aaron Hicks? You know, the Yankees’ starting center fielder entering this season, who was sandwiched between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as the third hitter in the Opening Day lineup?
Understandably, it’s been a few months since we’ve talked about Aaron Hicks here on Pinstripe Alley: when a player hits the injured list on May 14th and opts for season-ending surgery just a week later, there’s very little reason to give him more than just a passing reference. With the 2021 season either unfortunately or mercifully over for the Yankees, however, we begin to turn our attention to this upcoming winter and the 2022 season — thus bringing Hicks back into the conversation.
Given his injury history, there’s a more-than-decent chance that the Yankees look to add an outfielder this winter to at least challenge — if not outright replace — Hicks as the starting center fielder next season. Even so, the nine-year veteran will almost certainly be expected to be a contributor next season. In 338 games from 2017 to 2020, he hit 60 home runs, walked 213 times, and slashed .247/.362/.457, good for a 120 OPS+. He’s capable of playing all three spots in the outfield, albeit not at an elite level. With an AAV of about $10 million, he has the potential to be a fantastic value for the Yankees (and we know how much the Yankees like value). On top of all that, he’s a switch-hitter.
Still, he doesn’t come without risk, as a torn wrist sheath is a major injury, and not one that occurs all that often. In recent years, only José Bautista in 2012 and Mark Teixeira in 2013 tore the tendon sheath in their wrists (it is far more common for the tendon itself to become strained rather than the protective sheath). Although their injuries are not quite the same as Hicks’ — wrists are very finnicky things — in many ways, they provide both the best and worst case scenario, respectively, for Hicks and the Yankees.
Shortly after the 2012 All-Star Game, Bautista injured his wrist while fouling off a pitch against Yankees reliever David Robertson, hitting the injured list officially on July 17. At first, he would avoid surgery, returning to the lineup on August 24 against Baltimore. He would reaggravate the wrist the following day, and would opt for season-ending surgery just three days later.
Healthy to start the 2013 season, Bautista did not miss a beat. Although he recorded only 15 hits in the month of April and had only a .302 on-base percentage, 11 went for extra bases (seven home runs, four doubles), showing that his power stroke was still there. In the end, he finished the season slashing .259/.358/.498 with 28 home runs and 73 runs batted in over 118 games (he missed the final month of the season due to a bone bruise on his thigh) — a 132 OPS+. Clearly, the torn wrist sheath had fully healed and was not bothering him.
While preparing to play for Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Teixeira tore the tendon sheath in his right wrist, an injury that was initially described as a strained wrist. At first, his injury looked a lot less severe than Bautista’s, and he was expected to be back with the Yankees in May. He barely made that timeline, though, returning to action on May 31st. Just two weeks later, he reaggravated the wrist, and on June 26th, he decided to have season-ending surgery to repair the sheath. Much like Hicks’s 2021, Teixeira’s 2013 was essentially a lost season, as he had a 68 OPS+ in a whopping 15 games.
Unfortunately, although the only time he hit the shelf formally was due to a hamstring injury, Teixeira did not look at all like the middle-of-the-order bat that he was expected to be throughout the 2014 season. Despite hitting 22 home runs — just two fewer than he had in a comparable amount of games in 2012 — he posted a .216/.313/.398 slash (101 OPS+), the worst performance in a full season of his entire career up until that point. While we unfortunately do not have Statcast data back that far, which would help us analyze his batted ball profile more to determine the source of his power outage, we do know his wrist continued to bother him throughout the season, and he even needed a cortisone shot in June to keep him on the field. Ultimately, Teixeira would return to his peak form one last time, as his 144 OPS+ in 2015 was his highest mark as a member of the Yankees, but before that, the torn sheath ruined one season and turned him into a league-average bat in another.
Back in August, speaking to the media for the first time since the surgery, Hicks said he’s feeling good and expects to be able to undergo a normal offseason, which would allow him to go full-speed from the beginning of spring training. While that would be a very nice development indeed, there’s still a lot of time between now and then. Whose path is Hicks going to take — that of his fellow outfielder, who was also the same age as himself when he tore his sheath, or that of his former teammate, who had been two years older? At this point, only time will tell.