After splitting a four-game road series with the Baltimore Orioles, a perennial doormat for the Yankees, and a series sweep of the Detroit Tigers in New York, the boys from the Bronx have a .500 won-loss record 28 games into the 2021 season.
This is the first time the Yanks have played .500 ball since they first began the season with a 5-5 won-loss record.
Yankee fans should curb their enthusiasm following their team’s sweep of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are among the two worst MLB teams in baseball (the Colorado Rockies are the other). Analysts project that the Motor City Kitties will lose about 100 games in 2021.
Overall, this is one of the most disappointing starts the Bronx Bombers have had in many years.
Clearly, there is still enough time for the Savages to resurrect themselves and turn things around. But what if they are unable to elevate their play by the All-Star break? If this happens (a realistic possibility, given the club’s current problems), what should the Yanks do if it appears that they will not make the playoffs halfway through the season?
Considering what has been plaguing the Bombers during the early going, here are five things the club should do if the team is still playing .500 ball (or worse) by the All-Star break, and their chances of making the playoffs look bleak.
5. Acquire a New Center Fielder
When healthy, 31-year-old Aaron Hicks has contributed to the Yanks’ success during the four seasons he has been with the team. However, he has been injury-prone and has spent a significant amount of time on the IL.
During his first year with the boys from the Bronx in 2016, he had shoulder and hamstring injuries, and he missed games. He also has experienced oblique injuries and back injuries in recent years as well.
After the 2019 season, Hicks was required to undergo Tommy John surgery (rare for a position player). While he has supposedly fully recovered from the procedure, he has lost arm strength. Baserunners are aware of this. Thus, they are less likely to fear his throwing arm and are more likely to try to take an extra base on him. At least Hicks still fields well in center, though he may have lost a step or two.
However, his success as a switch hitter is mixed. During the shortened 2020, his batting average from the right side was over 25 points higher than his batting average from the left side.
Thus far in the 2021 season, he has a .115 batting average from the left side. He has a better record batting from the right side, hitting .250 (for a total .157 batting average). If he continues to hit significantly better from the right side by the All-Star break, he should be told to abandon switch hitting and only bat from the right side to help the club win.
As his stats over time show, Hicks’ better days are behind him, and his career is now on a downward trajectory. If nothing changes by the All-Star break, the Yanks should put him on the trading block and attempt to bring a younger player in who can play center field effectively and hit better than Hicks.
Hicks is due $10,785,714 each year for the next three years (2021, 2022, and 2023). He will then receive $9,785,715 each year in 2024 and 2025. Hicks is signed through 2025 with a team $12.5 million option/$1 million buyout in 2026. While 2026 is a long way off, my bet is that the Yanks will take the $1 million buyout and walk.
If other clubs are unwilling to pick up his contract, the Yanks might have to pay a portion of his salary to consummate a trade. The team also may have to throw in a prospect to obtain a quality starting player in return for Hicks.
Baltimore’s center fielder Cedric Mullins would be a superb addition to the Yanks. He is in his age-26 season and bats left. In 2021, he has four home runs and nine RBI, and he is slashing .321/.380/.514. Mullins has also produced a .894 OPS and a 155 OPS+. He only earns about $600,000 and won’t be a free agent until 2026.
Otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be an up-and-coming prospect inside the Yankees organization to ably fill Hicks’ shoes. Maybe phenom Jasson Dominguez will inherit center field one day and add to the legacy of great Yankee center fielders who played before him. However, at this point he is much too green to play center field in MLB.
Would the Orioles accept a prospect haul from the Bombers? At this point…of course they would! Whoever wants to pay up is welcome to do so.