Aaron Hicks has been viewed as a talented player since his days in the minor leagues, but he struggled during his first few seasons in Minnesota to get his career off the ground. He was then traded to the Yankees on November 11, 2015 when it was clear that the Twins preferred to go in the direction of Byron Buxton in center field, and that move has paid off for the Yankees, as they have a cornerstone of the franchise playing center field and today the team announced that they have rewarded Hicks with a seven-year contract extension, worth $70 million, with a team option for an eighth season.
The New York Yankees today announced that they have signed OF Aaron Hicks to a 7-year contract extending through the 2025 season, with a club option for the 2026 season. This contract replaces his 1-year contract for 2019 that was announced on Jan 11.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) February 25, 2019
On the surface this feels like a very good move for the Yankees. They already one of the biggest contracts in all of baseball in Giancarlo Stanton in their outfield and they also have a budding young superstar in Aaron Judge manning right field. Hicks has shown to be just as, if not more valuable than both of those players, posting a WAR that was tied for the second-highest on the team last season, just behind Judge and tied with Luis Severino.
Hicks is someone who strikes out a good amount over the course of his career, but he has improved his strikeout rate since being traded to New York, while also improving his home run rate, making him a more ideal hitter for today’s MLB game each year that he’s in the league. He has also improved his walk percentage and his overall plate discipline, posting an on-base percentage roughly 40 points higher than the league average in each of the past two seasons, plus his swing percentage on pitches outside the zone has continued to drop.
The power increase is obvious over the past two seasons, and really since Hicks has come to New York, he’s hit 50 home runs in three seasons, but over the past two seasons he’s hit 42 home runs, topping out at 27 this past season and hitting 15 in 2017, a season in which he played just 88 games.
One thing offensively that Hicks does need to see improvement on however is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Overall he isn’t too horrible with runners in scoring position, posing a career average of .231 in such situations, but if he were able to up that even a little bit he would be able to drive in much more runs because of the ability of the other players in the Yankees lineup.
Hicks also needs to improve his ability to hit in the clutch if he wants to take his game to the next level, only posting a career OPS of .619 in situations in which the game is late and close, posting a .684 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position and only a .625 OPS in high leverage situations.
Basically, Hicks has been able to do the majority of his damage in low leverage situations or when games are mostly figured out or they’re early on and there’s little-to-zero pressure on him at the plate. It’s good that he is still able to produce the amount of home runs he did this past season and the well-above-league-average on-base percentage he’s posted the past two seasons, but with his WAR already being just below an all-star level, if he were to get better in those situations he would pose a good chance at becoming an all-star year-in and year-out.
Playing in Yankee Stadium is something that Hicks has really adjusted to well. He was always more of a pull hitter, with the ability to drive the ball up the middle, but each season that he’s been in New York he has pulled the ball more than his career percentages, which is perfect for Yankee Stadium and the short porch in right field as he is a switch hitter, but naturally faces more right-handed pitching, meaning he hits left-handed more often. A good amount of his home runs have came to right field since joining the Yankees before the 2016 season, as is evidenced here by his spray chart during his time in New York against right-handed pitching:
Now onto Hicks’ fielding. Hicks is a pretty talented center fielder, but overall his numbers haven’t always followed that talent throughout his career. Since coming to New York however, his defense has been better, topping out at a defensive WAR of 1.5 in 2017 in just 88 games, but dropping to 0.2 this past season after it being neutral at 0.0 in 2016, his first season in the Bronx.
As far as defensive runs saved, he had a down season this past year at a -3, but overall during his time in New York he’s at positive-nine defensive runs saved, but he’s largely being carried by his 2017 season in which he was a positive-12.
Overall for Hicks’ career though he’s accounted for positive-16 defensive runs saved, with his best position being his usual center field spot, posting positive-10 defensive runs saved.
Look for a bounce back season from Hicks in the field as he is a talented outfielder and with more and more time spent in the big leagues he should only continue to become more consistent.
Now as far the dollar-figures in this contract, I think it’s a great value for the Yankees. Hicks has shown the ability to be a 20-30 home run guy, as evidenced by last seasons 27 and the 15 he hit in 2017 in just 88 games, plus he is a capable outfielder and even though the Yankees are locking themselves in long-term with this seven-year deal with a team option for an eighth-year, the average-annual-value of $10 million per year is not too much to pay for a guy as capable as Hicks, who is going to turn 30-years old right around the end of the regular season, especially for a team with pockets as deep as the Yankees.