After plenty of discussions during the season about whether the Yankees would find a suitor for Aaron Hicks, they decided to cut ties with the struggling outfielder, bringing in Greg Allen to replace him. This comes as a surprise considering he posted a 111 wRC+ in the month of May, but with the Yankees looking to get new blood on the roster and fans constantly booing the 33-year-old switch hitter, the writing was on the wall. The Yankees felt as if they could get better production on the defensive and offensive end from Greg Allen, but now the Yankees are on the hook for the remaining $30 million.
There are plenty of implications for this move, as the organization cuts ties with a player they had tried to give opportunities to over the last few years.
Aaron Hicks’ Injuries and Age Caught Up to Him
Some of the biggest regressions Hicks has had this year haven’t even been at the plate, as his OPS dropped from .642 to .524, but his defense and speed regressed dramatically as well. It seems the injuries have finally caught up to the former first-round pick, as his Sprint Speed fell from the 66th Percentile to 48th Percentile and his OAA fell from +1 in LF to -1. On the other hand, Greg Allen is a speedy outfielder who will also struggle to hit but can play all three outfield spots and be a reliable pinch-runner for the Yankees.
It’s not a roster spot that I believe Allen will hold for very long, but if he’s able to give them an 80-85 wRC+ with defense and baserunning, it’ll be a vast upgrade over the struggling Hicks. On the season, Aaron Hicks had a -0.5 fWAR, the worst mark on the Yankees despite the fact that he doesn’t play enough to compile negative WAR. It’s the right roster choice for this team, especially considering how unpopular he became in the Bronx and the comments Hicks would make in the media regarding more playing time. Whether his comments were warranted or not aside, he didn’t play at a level that warranted him keeping a roster spot.
On top of the poor defense and speed, the quality of contact significantly regressed, going from slightly below average in xwOBACON (Expected Weighted On-Base Average on Contact) to one of the worst in the entire sport. His strikeout rate went up from 24.1% to 26.3%, his walk rate went from 13.7% to 9.2%, and the signs pointed to his process at the plate not being what it was back when he was an above-average outfielder from 2017-2020. Whether it was injuries, age, or both, it was clear that Aaron Hicks was headed in the wrong direction, and Brian Cashman acted swiftly.
Hicks finishes his Yankee career with a 103 wRC+, 81 HRs, and 9.3 fWAR, and while the extension didn’t work out, the Yankees certainly are probably still happy with the initial trade with the Minnesota Twins, where they traded essentially nothing to acquire an outfielder who was above-average for the majority of his years in the Bronx.
What Does This Mean for the Yankees Going Forward?
The Yankees cutting Aaron Hicks and eating that money tells me that they’re not nearly as afraid to make changes as some may have been led to believe. As mentioned earlier, Hicks had a solid month of May, and yet the Yankees didn’t buy into it in the slightest, and for guys like IKF and Josh Donaldson, the pressure is definitely on. They’re willing to eat $30 million over the next three years to get rid of Hicks, and if upgrades are available, they’ll eat money to make sure they have room for said upgrade.
Granted, Aaron Hicks’ struggles are vastly different to Josh Donaldson or IKF, as Donaldson is a former MVP and in 2021 had a strong wRC+, and as for IKF his defensive versatility and excellence in the outfield and at 3B allows him to remain useful, even if the bat is underwhelming. For the outfield, now there are more open spots as guys like Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, and Oswaldo Cabrera try to battle to hold onto the position.
No team in baseball has a worse WAR in left field than the Yankees (-0.8), and so the Yankees are going to try whatever they can to grab an upgrade at the position. Hicks has been far and away their worst position player, and the Yankees need to play a lot better at the position if they want to wipe away a 6.5 deficit in the American League East. The Yankees made a change they sort of had to make, and now they’ll move forward from the Aaron Hicks era, and they’re hoping to get some sort of value from this Greg Allen trade.