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Aaron Hicks (Kim Klement-USATSI)

Baseball

What is the market for Aaron Hicks?

Three offseasons ago, in 2015, the New York Yankees made a trade for former Minnesota Twins top prospect Aaron Hicks. Yankee fans were confused by the deal that sent catching prospect John Ryan Murphy for an unproven center fielder in Hicks. Murphy, the 24-year old catcher coming off a season in which he hit .277 was shipped to Minnesota for Hicks who owned a career .225 batting average.

Brian McCann was slated to be the starting catcher, and Gary Sanchez was the up and coming star in the Yankees farm system. There was clearly a lot of depth at catcher within the system, where as the center field position was lacking. Jacob Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were both approaching their mid 30’s and production from the outfield position was lacking.

Murphy never panned out for the Twins. Hicks, who had a tough season for the bombers in his first campaign in pinstripes broke out in 2017, cementing his role as the everyday center fielder for the Yankees. Hicks showed flashes of his potential in 2017, proving that he was worth the gamble with the 14th overall pick in the first round in 2008. He was ranked as the 19th best prospect in baseball in 2010.

Yankee fans know Hicks is a phenomenal athlete, he is a five tool player. He ranks among the top 15 outfielders in baseball in both offensive and defensive ratings.

The Bombers took a chance on the struggling Hicks, and to this point he has worked out. He will be the starting center fielder for a potential world series contender in 2019. Next offseason, Hicks is expected to make big dollars when he hits the free agent market for the first time in his career. However, with the current state of free agency, he may not be a lock for a big contract.

Hicks will hit the market at 30-years old next offseason, and the trend around baseball the past few seasons is that teams are weary of handing out any contracts to 30 plus year old players. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both 26, have even yet to be signed with just 12 days remaining until spring training kicks off.

Hicks is a switch hitting center fielder who has great on base potential, can hit for power, evident by his career high in home runs in 2018 with 27 long balls, has above average speed, and is a wizard defensively. The Yankees are certainly going to look to lock him up long term.

Another all-star caliber season in 2019, Hicks could head into free agency looking for the money Lorenzo Cain made last off season, a five-year deal around the 80 million dollar range. Hicks will be two years younger then Cain at this point next offseason, and in seasons passed would have definitely been paid 80 million dollars.

However, the market is scarce, teams are not handing out big money contracts quite often. Teams around the league are looking to cut costs instead of adding them. Hicks can still put himself in line for a big pay day, but with the way free agency has gone the past few seasons, his opportunity is dwindling.

The Los Angeles Dodgers recently signed former Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock to a four year 50 million dollar contract. Pollock is 31 years old coming off an injury riddled season. He has dealt with many nagging injuries throughout his career. Hicks also has dealt with a magnitude of injuries in the past, but not as serious as Pollock’s. Unfortunately for Hicks, Pollock may have set the market for Hicks when he hits the open market next offeason.

Hicks and Pollock’s numbers compare, they have similar batting averages, strike out rate, and are both above average defenders. Hicks walks almost twice as much as Pollock, and in the past two seasons, the numbers say he has been the better of the two players.

If Hicks avoids injury and produces the way he has over the past two seasons, he should be in line for a big contract. If I were Hicks, I would knock on the Yankees door to start talking an extension. The open market can be a dangerous game to play for players in 2019. With a year left before free agency, anything could happen. Hicks could get hurt or his performance could falter. Hicks should begin to look at a long term contract now.

However, Hicks could have a huge year in 2019, so the downside of agreeing to an extension now could be selling himself short. A .300 batting average along with 30 home runs in 2019 and Hicks could be in line foe a major pay day, even in the anti-generous free agent market today. The Yankees also face a risk in signing Hicks to an early extension as well. Once players sign long term deals they automatically lose value. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has mentioned he would like to start discussing the future of Hicks, short stop Didi Gregorius and relief ace Dellin Betances.

With the way free agency has been playing out it may make more sense for the Yankees to wait it out before signing players to extensions. Massive paydays for players have been non existent over the past few seasons. If the Bombers could snag Hicks on a contract similar to Pollocks, the Yanks should jump on that opportunity as soon as possible.It would be a potential win win for both sides.  Hicks would not have to worry about hitting the dreadful free agent market and has long term security, and the Bombers do not have to worry about the center field position for the coming seasons.

A Pollock like extension for Hicks could work well for both parties.

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