There are a lot of moves that the Yankees would love to make this offseason, but there are plenty of restraints in place that block some of the more appealing ones. Some are self-restrictions around just what the budget is, more involve what a prospective trade partner would demand in return for any potential deal, but a few revolve around decisions the Yankees have already made to tie up money into players that aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
Josh Donaldson gets the lion’s share of the complaints when discussing the latter point, but the second figure in that puzzle is Aaron Hicks. While Donaldson regressed significantly in a year’s time since donning pinstripes, Hicks has been on a steady path downward for a number of years, all while being on the team already. Injuries have played their part in this decline, but even a year past his recovery from his most significant injury Hicks has not been close to the player that he once was.
The temptation to keep him around despite all of this has been Hicks’ long-term commitment to the team, signing a seven-year extension back in 2019 that carried a low-AAV of just $10 million per year. The gamble in keeping Hicks around has been relatively low up until recently, as the cost was far from prohibitive and he had recent success to look back towards with optimism that he could find it again.
Alas, that hasn’t been the case. And now, in a pivotal offseason where there is promising young talent waiting for a legitimate shot, the Yankees have two roster spots carrying significant dead weight with them. Donaldson’s deal is far more expensive for this season, which hurts them in terms of making other moves in this offseason, but it also makes him a significantly more difficult player to move. Combined with his still-stellar defense, there is some merit to keeping Donaldson around for the final year of his deal if no-one can be persuaded to take on his contract. Hicks has no such argument, and there’s a real chance that 2022 should be the last season of his Yankees career.
Hicks has three years and $29.5 million left on his contract with a club option for 2026 that will almost certainly not be exercised regardless of who holds that contract by then. To this point in his career Hicks has been right around average as a hitter, posting a career 98 wRC+, but over the last two years has completely lost his power stroke. His slugging percentage over this span (.317) has been worse than his already-low .322 OBP, putting up a paltry .639 OPS that would be borderline unplayable even if his defense was still air-tight. The problem only further compounds when you consider how much he’s regressed in the field as well, and becomes a situation where the question shifts from whether he should start to whether he should be on the roster at all.
It’s possible that Hicks could hang on as a fourth outfielder, and it is true that injuries always play a factor in determining who is available ahead of him on the depth chart. But the player that Hicks is now is not a reliable depth player, even if he could fill that role adequately. Having him play in 30-40 games over the course of a season wouldn’t hurt, but having him be the man waiting in the wings if one of the starters hits the IL for a month would be cause for a bit of panic. There’s also other players currently in the system or available to the Yankees who could provide more upside even with just that limited playing time, which isn’t something that you can be sure of with Hicks anymore. The writing is on the wall here.
The Yankees don’t have to give Hicks away for nothing right now, but if no suitable landing place arrives there’s room to concede here. It’s time to plan ahead, acknowledge a mistake, and cut your losses.