Heading into the beginning of June, the New York Yankees are enjoying a comfy spot in first place. Believe it or not, Aaron Hicks has a lot to do with it.
For all of the attention Aaron Judge has received; an MVP-type season, Aaron Hicks is putting up tremendous numbers. With Jacoby Ellsbury out with a concussion and not slated to come back anytime soon, Hicks spot in the lineup is secured.
Hicks’ versatility to play all three outfield spots is what landed him on the team last year via trade with the Minnesota Twins. The player we saw last year is not the Aaron Hicks we see in 2017. In 2016, Hicks hit a measly .217 with eight home runs and 31 RBI in 123 games. Fans were screaming for Hicks to be traded or cut. A year later, they aren’t doing that.
Instead, they are praising Hicks for a solid start to his season. In just 43 games, he’s hitting .321 with eight home runs and 31 RBI. In two months, he’s already matched what took him an entire year to do. It also helps that he’s hitting over 110 points higher, which is helping his case to stay in the lineup.
Before the injury, Ellsbury was having a good season. He was hitting .281 with four home runs and 14 RBI with eight steals in 39 games. For Ellsbury’s part, he always gets off to solid starts in a season. His issue though, is that he tends to drop off by the end of the season and his numbers suffer.
When the Yankees signed him to the seven-year, $153 million deal in December of 2013, the Yankees thought they were getting an MVP-type player. The player the Yankees saw in 2011 who hit 32 home run, 105 RBI and stole 39 bases. That season got Ellsbury the runner-up in the MVP Award. The Yankees were hoping for that player when they signed him and essentially, passed on re-signing Robinson Cano.
But Ellsbury hasn’t been that player. Ellsbury has struggled in New York to the point that he got benched for the Yankees last playoff game in October of 2015 against the Houston Astros. Ellsbury, the same guy who helped the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles. And yet, in the loss to Houston, he was on the bench.
Heading into 2017, Ellsbury was obviously going to remain the starting center fielder because Aaron Hicks played like a fourth outfielder. Except Hicks hasn’t. Hicks is playing like a starter and better than Ellsbury has.
If Hicks continues his pace, he’s made Ellsbury extremely expendable on the roster. The problem is, Ellbsury’s contract is an albatross and one of the worst in baseball. Ellsbury is making $21 million a season until he’s 36 and either struggles or can’t stay healthy.
If the Yankees were ever serious about moving Ellsbury, they’d have to eat a majority of the deal and take back marginal prospects. Or, they would have to take on another bad contract from another team. Plus, nobody wants to trade for an aging outfielder whose currently residing on the DL.
For now, the Yankees are stuck with Ellsbury and his deal. But given the way Aaron Hicks has played, he’s made Ellsbury an afterthought on the roster.