The New York Yankees have exercised some responsibility this offseason, but the deal they gave Aaron Hicks is not without risk.
The New York Yankees have been more responsible with free agent spending in recent years, and this offseason was no different as they were only peripherally involved on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But as they continue to work on contract extensions for their own players, Jack Curry of YES Network was first to report center fielder Aaron Hicks has agreed to a seven-year, $70 million deal. The new contract includes the 2019 season, weaving in Hicks’ pre-arbitration $6 million salary and a $2 million signing bonus.
Hicks was on track for a breakout season in 2017, with 15 home runs and 52 RBI (.847 OPS), but oblique issues limited him to just 88 games. A more complete breakout came in 2018, as he hit 27 home runs with 79 RBI an a .833 OPS over a career-high 137 games. He also finished fifth in the American League in walks (90) and walk rate (15.5 percent), with a significant spike in hard contact rate (39.5 percent; 30.8 percent in 2017). Among center fielders last year Hicks finished third in fWAR (4.9), behind only Mike Trout and Lorenzo Cain.
Hicks has been a late bloomer, after lingering as a top prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ system and then underachieving when he first reached the big leagues. He will turn 30 on October 2, at or around the end of the coming season, so the Yankees are fully committed through 2025 (Hicks’ age-36 season essentially, with $12.5 million option for 2026 that includes a $1 million buyout).
With another good season in 2019, with the contracts A.J. Pollock and Cain have gotten over the last two offseasons as slightly older players, Hicks would probably have commanded more than $10 million per year on the free agent market next winter. So the Yankees secured some cost control, while committing to Hicks as their center fielder and a core player going forward. But he has been a mix of an underachiever and injury-prone, and time will tell if 2018 was the start of something or an outlier.
Compared to what it would have taken to sign Harper, Hicks came at a bargain sum and it can be argued the all-around value is similar between the two. But the term is the tipping point, and even if the 2018 edition of Hicks is who he’ll be for a few more years the Yankees will be paying for some portion of a decline phase.