On Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Harrison Bader will make his New York Yankees debut. The former Cardinals outfielder, who was acquired at the trade deadline in a controversial deal that sent Jordan Montgomery to St. Louis, has been on the shelf for months with plantar fasciitis.
For general manager Brian Cashman’s sake, he’d better hope Bader is the next best thing, because his Montgomery-for-Frankie Montas swap has failed miserably. If Bader can lengthen the lineup, upgrade the outfield defense, and … kick Aaron Hicks out of the picture, it’ll be a massive win.
In the end, this might result in Cashman solving one of the problems he created. The seven-year contract extension he gave Hicks objectively should’ve never happened, so the fact that Cashman had to trade Montgomery to patch up this colossal issue is a failure in itself.
But if fans are being honest with themselves, they’ll take any solution to the Hicks problem. He’s seemingly become disillusioned with being a Yankee, and manager Aaron Boone has only played him in road games ever since his awful showing on Sept. 9.
If Bader shows any promise in his first couple weeks of action, will that officially mark the end of Hicks in a Yankees uniform? At the very least, it could boot him off the postseason roster. That’s a start.
Aaron Hicks’ Yankees tenure could be nearing end with Harrison Bader looming
It’s not guaranteed, though! Hicks still has three years and $30 million on his contract remaining, and the Yankees refuse to admit they were wrong on any investment they make. Additionally, Hicks has found a bit of a groove since only playing on the road over the last week, so perhaps that’ll be the Yankees’ excuse to keep him on the bench when they travel in the postseason.
Then you have the issue of defensive alignment. Bader coming back means he’ll likely occupy center field and shift Aaron Judge back to right field, where Oswaldo Cabrera has been excelling. What do Boone and Cashman do in this situation? Move Cabrera to left? He’s been taking reps out there recently. Keep Hicks in left assuming his play improves? Or put Giancarlo Stanton in left and use Cabrera as a utility man off the bench?
Truth is, the solution is unclear. One thing we do know, however, is that this team is likely better with Hicks out of the lineup often, regardless of how he feels about his playing time. He’s failed to prove he’s consistent pretty much throughout his entire MLB career.
Additionally, the Yankees can’t afford to have this kind of energy on the roster, as fans have seen so many times that it poisons the clubhouse and doesn’t provide the kind of performances needed from supporting cast members in the lineup.
Hicks, by trade, is a center fielder, playing 652 out of his 834 career games at the position (with 121 in right and 105 in left). The Yankees have been mostly utilizing him in left after his early-season struggles in center, which makes him even less valuable. He’s in the 60th percentile for outs above average and 51st percentile for outfielder jump. Don’t let DRS and fielding percentage fool you — those metrics will tell you Hicks is a very good outfielder, but it’s clear he’s endured a steep decline.
In the end, if his claim to fame in 2022 is drawing walks (95th percentile in walk percentage and 96th percentile in chase rate), that simply won’t be enough if he’s hitting .216 with a .308 slugging percentage, in addition to the fading defense.
All it’ll take is a hot start from Bader to force the issue. One more gaffe from Hicks and the fanbase may force the organization to make a decision it isn’t comfortable with.