It’s one thing to know the end is coming, it’s another to wake up to the ending via tweet. Aaron Hicks has officially been designated for assignment, ending an eight-year relationship that saw him among the best center fielders in the game before declining into a player without a role. Even after warming up in the past week or so, Hicks owns a 49 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR on the season.
It’s a move that we’ve seen all too often over the past few seasons. Hicks joins a club of players whose ineffectiveness clogged up a roster spot while the relationship between the player and the club appeared to deteriorate, leading to an inevitable sub rosa dismissal. Joey Gallo, Gary Sánchez, Sonny Gray, and Luke Voit have all received at least somewhat similar treatment, although only Hicks was outright DFA’d — an example of his Mariana Trench-depth contract value.
Why this deterioration happens and whether it happens more frequently than other teams is a conversation for another post. Today’s about the end of Aaron Hicks’ Yankee tenure. I’m not sorry to see him go, but there’s also no venom in my heart. The original trade with the Twins for Hicks, which only cost a quickly-discarded backup catcher, was one of the first moves I seriously examined as I became a regular on the comment boards here.
Over 225 games between 2017-18, Hicks was legitimately one of the five or so best center fielders in baseball, with only Mike Trout a better hitter at the position in the American League. After a 4.3-win season in 2018, the Yankees agreed to a seven-year, $70 million extension with the switch hitter, and while he was limited to 59 regular-season games in 2019, it still featured two of his greatest highlights in pinstripes: the 10th-inning robbery in Minnesota to cap a marathon and season-saving homer in Game 5 of the ALCS. The money value was ultimately never the problem; what was the problem was that seven-year term, built to lower the CBT hit of the deal.
If the Yankees and Hicks had agreed to a five-year deal for example, that deal would expire at the end of this season and maybe he keeps his roster spot. One of the reasons why Josh Donaldson hasn’t been DFA’d, yet is because his contract’s up at the end of 2023, so you may as well see if he can marshal average performance over the last fourish months of his time here if you’re paying him anyway.
For Hicks, those additional two years—the very tool used to shave down his CBT hit for the all-important year-to-year budget—is what ultimately drove the Yankees to this decision. Last year he was arguably worth that $10 million AAV, with a win and a half over 130 games. To argue the other side, however, maybe he wasn’t worth it. The suffocating lack of power, even paired with decent on-base percentage, shows some of the flaws in sabermetric analysis.
To only have one tool, even if its above-average, just doesn’t get you as far as you think in modern baseball. I never ragged on Hicks for appearing surly at times — I remember the Sonny Gray Smile debacle all too well — but there was just nothing on the field of value for the Yankees.
Happy trails, Aaron. Gallo has found some success since leaving the Yankees and Gray is one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. I don’t know which team would be particularly interested in an Aaron Hicks reclamation project, but I hope it goes well.