The Yankees won their first series of the year, Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball to Jupiter, Aaron Judge is still Aaron Judge, and the team looked good in our first real look at them. Not everyone involved is happy, however.
On Sunday afternoon, Isiah Kiner-Falefa started in center field to wrap up the opening series. His presence there isn’t a total shock, as it had been floated as a possibility and featured in some Grapefruit League exhibitions. But they opted for this alignment over an outfield configuration that featured Aaron Hicks in some way. He sat to start the first two games of the series as well, and in similar fashion to some Yankees before him, Hicks’ days in New York seem like they could be headed for an end.
Hicks had some really good seasons with the Yankees early on, but he’s now coming off consecutive rough years. The current Yankee roster has an influx of young talent with the full arrivals of Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe, not to mention the eventual return of Harrison Bader. There is obviously quite a lot of season left, but Hicks seems to be the odd man out as things stand. We’re just a handful of games in, but the veteran switch-hitter seems to have lost his status with the Yankees.
Cabrera’s great spring and Opening Day start already clouded the skies for Hicks, but Sunday’s decision to use Kiner-Falefa, a true third baseman, turned shortstop, turned center fielder over Hicks is one that feels like it could be the nail in his Yankee coffin. Now, I don’t even know that this was the right call. I would think that Hicks in left, with Judge in center is a better alignment under the current circumstances, but this choice from Sunday seems to show the state of affairs. Perhaps this is all reading too much into a season’ first three games, but it feels like a telling decision in light of other reports.
Hicks’ confusion and frustration over the situation no longer seems to be private. There was an article Sunday at The Athletic detailing Hicks’ concern over the situation. The main sentiment of Hicks’ statements and the situation as a whole? “I have no idea what my role is.”
The veteran is not alone in this either, as the Yankees and Aaron Boone don’t seem entirely clear on it either. Hicks also expressed a desire to be playing every day, rather than coming off the bench late in games. He spoke plainly about what is probably a difficult situation. Not only do both sides not have a definitive answer for these concerns, but they both seem to be generally over the situation as well.
The switch-hitting outfielder got his first start of the year on Monday against the Phillies, and there could be more of the same in store for the rest of the series.
Hicks is playing today and will probably play tomorrow, Boone said. Hicks has expressed some frustration with not knowing his role, but Boone said they're still figuring it out, since he wouldn't call him a true reserve.— Laura Albanese (@AlbaneseLaura) April 3, 2023
Hicks will obviously be glad to hear this, but it begs the question of what he actually is going to be for this team. The Yankees went to fairly worrisome lengths to avoid starting Hicks in very first games of the year, but are also hesitant to call him a bench player (even if that appears to be the case). Hicks has now publicly expressed that he has “no idea” what his role is, and the Yankees don’t seem to be sure either. Boone has said that he will get some time, and that will likely be the case, but there will still be a big difference between what Hicks wants as a player and what he’ll be getting.
This situation is not unlike Joey Gallo’s least season. Hicks has even referenced his former teammate’s move from the Yankees. Gallo struggled mightily in the Bronx, and eventually it became clear (from both sides) that his time here was largely done. Gallo was public about it too, and similar to Hicks’ recent statement, the whole thing was a bit of a bummer to say the least. Hicks went hitless in his start Monday night, and the boo-birds were out in full force. Perhaps I can be too sympathetic, but the whole thing feels like a look at how heavy it can be on a player to essentially watch his job drift away. It was rough enough in late 2022.
Things likely aren’t going to get any clearer for Hicks in the future, either. If playing time is hard to come by under the current situation, it will be ever more scarce once Harrison Bader returns. Oswaldo Cabrera seems to have fully won the left field job for now, and Bader will be penciled in a the everyday center fielder upon returning. As unfortunate as it may be to watch happen, the Yankees will have to continue forward one way or another.
Neither Aaron Hicks or the Yankees seem entirely sure (or committed to saying) what the outfielder’s current role is. Of course, with the latter’s confusion only feeding into the former’s. It is an unfortunate situation, and I frankly feel bad for Hicks. Both sides here, despite the lack of clarity, seem to be nearing the end of the road with the situation, but the ~$31 million left on his contract remains a bullet that the New York front office is hesitant to bite just yet. As things stand though, the Yankees’ best lineup doesn’t include Hicks, and the circumstances might only get more uncomfortable as the season progresses.