From promising start to disappointing end: Aaron Hicks' Yankees career

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After an eventful eight-season tenure with the team, the New York Yankees designated Aaron Hicks for assignment on Saturday. Hicks, previously the longest-tenured Yankee, struggled exponentially in 2023, leading New York to cut ties with him despite his pay being on the books through 2025. 

With the Yankees looking to win now, they had no choice but to let go of Hicks, whose -0.5 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) was the worst on the team. At one point, it seemed like Hicks would be a mainstay in the Yankee outfield and help them win a World Series, but now, he’ll be stuck watching his former teammates chase number 28.

Following the 2015 season, the Yankees acquired Hicks from the Minnesota Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. Hicks was coming off of a breakout 2015 season in which he posted 2.0 fWAR in 97 games, but the Twins wanted to clear center field for their top prospect Byron Buxton. In addition to clearing room for Buxton, the Twins wanted to improve their catching following their catchers accumulating a tied-for-league-worst -1.5 fWAR. 

For the Yankees, Hicks was brought in to be another outfield option, but with Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner all on the team, Hicks was the team’s fourth outfielder until Beltran was traded at the trade deadline.

Acquiring Aaron Hicks was one of Brian Cashman's best moves with Yankees. Extending him was not.

Hicks’ first year as a Yankees wasn’t a good one, as he was a below replacement-level player, but he came into his own in 2017.

Despite only playing in 88 games due to two stints on the injured list, Hicks’ 2.7 fWAR was tied for the fourth most among Yankee position players with Starlin Castro, and his 128 wRC+ was the third best on the team behind Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez. 

In 2018, with Ellsbury nowhere to be found and only one brief stint on the injured list to his name, Hicks had his best season as a Yankee. As the everyday center fielder, Hicks hit .248/.366/.467 (129 wRC+) with a career-high 27 home runs. Additionally, Hicks’ 7.0 BsR – a base running metric from FanGraphs – was the fourth-best among qualified outfielders. For the season, Hicks accumulated 4.3 fWAR, the ninth-best among qualified outfielders and a higher mark than new teammate Giancarlo Stanton's.

From 2017-2018, Hicks was one of the best center fielders in Major League Baseball. His 128 wRC+ was the eighth-best among center fielders (minimum 500 PAs) and his 9.2 BsR was the ninth-best, all while being a solid defender accumulating 1.0 Out Above Average. 

Following the two best years of his career, the Yankees and Hicks agreed to a seven-year, $70 million extension that would keep him in pinstripes through the 2025 season.

In the first year of his extension, though, Hicks was derailed by injuries, only appearing in 59 games and accumulating 0.6 fWAR. Despite a lackluster season, some of Hicks’ best moments as a Yankee came during that year

Against his former team in Minnesota, Hicks hit a two-out, go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning, giving the Yankees a 12-11 lead, but the game went to extra innings. 

The Yankees took a 14-12 lead in the top of the tenth inning, but in the bottom half, the Twins loaded the bases with two outs. On the fourth pitch of his at bat, Max Kepler sent a bullet into left-center field, with the ball quickly tailing away from Hicks, but he made an incredible diving catch on the warning track to seal an incredible win for the Yankees.

In the postseason, after missing the final two months of the regular season and the ALDS (with an injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery), Hicks was added to the Yankees ALCS roster. In his third start, which came in Game 5, Hicks belted a three-run home run off Justin Verlander, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead in the first inning. Hicks’s homer proved to be all the Yankees, needed as they defeated the Astros 4-1, sending the series back to Houston.

Following the postseason, Hicks underwent the surgery. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hicks didn’t miss any of the regular season. Even with him coming off of a major surgery, Hicks had a bounce back season, hitting .225/.379/.414 (124 wRC+).

In 2021, Hicks started the season healthy, but after 32 games where he didn’t play well, he needed surgery for his wrist and wound up missing the remainder of the season. This sheath tear might've very well sealed his fate.

Hicks stayed healthy in 2022, appearing in 130 games, but he wasn’t the same player he had been from 2017-2020. Hicks’ .313 SLG was the lowest it had been since 2014, and it was clear that his injuries were starting to affect his play. Even though he stayed healthy in the regular season, Hicks hurt himself in the ALDS, causing him to miss the ALCS and delay his offseason training.

Even after his down 2021 and 2022, the Yankees and Hicks both felt confident that he’d be able to turn his career around in 2023. However, that never happened, and Hicks will try to reestablish himself on a new team.

Although Hicks’ Yankee career ended on the worst possible terms, his acquisition for John Ryan Murphy, who only played 26 games for the Twins, was one of Brian Cashman’s best trades. On the other hand, his extension was one of Cashman’s worst moves.