The New York Yankees and center fielder Aaron Hicks agreed to a seven year, $70 million contract extension early Monday morning; a move that many expected, especially after the Luis Severino extension, but one that has also become a hot topic of conversation ever since the move was announced.
No matter where you fall on the fence, one thing is clear: the extension was the epitome of a rare win-win scenario, for both for the organization and the player.
From the moment the Yankees acquired Hicks in November 2015, general manager Brian Cashman was steadfast in his praise of the then 26-year-old. Despite an inadequate slash line of .244/.344/.431 in parts of three big league seasons with the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees’ front office believed he was rushed into a major league role, a stance that was confirmed by many pundits who agreed that the Twins were overly aggressive in their approach in promoting their first round pick in 2008. They believed Hicks’ talents – which included a unique mix of power, speed and defense – could blossom with the right approach and development.
It may have taken some time for Hicks to live up to Cashman’s lofty expectations, but there’s no denying that the signs were more clear once he put on the pinstripes.
In a vacuum, the 2016 season mirrored Hicks’ time in the Twin Cities, as he sported a .217 average with an underwhelming .617 OPS.
But it was a tale of two seasons for him. Hicks spent most of the first half as the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, which could have been the reason behind his struggles during the first three months of the season, when he slashed just .197/.261/.301 in 204 plate appearances. But when the organization decided to embrace their youth movement and trade veteran Carlos Beltran, Hicks was pushed into an everyday role. He responded according, as he increased both his batting average and on-base perctange by nearly 50 points while almost doubling his home run total.
While injuries limited Hicks to just 88 games, it was also the best stretch of his career up until that point. When Ellsbury suffered a concussion in late May, Hicks was thrust into the starting center fielder role, and he responded promptly. Throughout the course of the season, Hicks reached career highs in major batting categories, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. His offensive outburst, combined with superb defensive ability, resulted in then-manager Joe Girardi anointing Hicks the everyday center fielder, despite Ellsbury being in the midst of a seven-year, $161 million albatross of a contract. The momentum Hicks gained in the 2017 season carried over the following year, as he was officially awarded the job by newly-hired Aaron Boone.
Hicks, as serious Yankees fans can attest, became one of the most important and consistent players on the roster of a team that finished with 100 wins to close out the regular season. His patience at the plate, contact approach and career-highs in walks and hits was a boon to a lineup that was strikeout happy with all or nothing power. But Hicks himself also flexed his muscles; his 27 home runs and 79 RBI were both the highest mark in his six year MLB tenure. His defense remained stellar in arguably the hardest position to play, while his speed wasn’t only on display while chasing down fly balls, as he also stole 11 bases in 13 attempts. Most importantly, however, was Hicks’ health; while he did miss chunks of time with intercostal and hamstring issues, he also suited up in 137 games, which is up from 123, a career mark set in 2016.
There’s thought that Hicks, now 29, could’ve received more than $10 million per year on an annual basis when he was scheduled to hit the open market next year. The case can certainly be argued, especially after seeing Hicks upward trajectory and realized potential as a switch-hitting, five-tool potential-type player. But injuries can happen at any moment, so cashing in on a long-term opportunity to support one’s family while playing for a franchise one has grown to love is undoubtedly a win for the player.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were able to re-sign a player who ranked among the very best at his position a year ago – his 4.7 WAR and 27 home runs were third, .833 OPS was fourth, SLG was fifth and OBP was seventh among all MLB center fielders – to an extension that many believe was below market value while also both giving the team financial flexibility and letting a young player like Clint Frazier and top prospect Estevan Florial more time to develop.
Checking off those three boxes while retaining a core member of a team with championship aspirations is a win for the Yankees.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.