Yankees lock up underrated Aaron Hicks with a 7-year extension

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Aaron Hicks is probably better than you think.

Ten days after extending ace Luis Severino, the New York Yankees made sure another valuable young star won’t reach free agency for several years. Aaron Hicks, 29, has signed a 7-year, $70 million contract with a club option for an eighth, meaning the Bombers have Hicks through his age-35 season.

Hicks has become one of the league’s more underrated players, overshadowed by his home run bashing outfield brethren (Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton) and the popular young infielders on the team. Make no mistake, other than Judge, Stanton and maybe a rejuvenated Gary Sanchez, no Yankees position player is as valuable on the field today as Hicks. His 4.9 fWAR finished just behind his fellow Aaron last season, not including pitchers.

The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins does everything you want from a centerfielder. He handles his position without issue, gets on-base at an above-average clip (.372 in ’17, .366 in ’18), hits for power (27 homers in ’18) and makes good choices on the basepaths. The issue with Hicks isn’t the grades but the attendance; his career high in games played was last season’s 137. Given the price (more on that later) it’s a risk worth taking for the Yankees.

Here are your 2018 OBP leaders for outfielders with at least 550 plate appearances:

Outfielder OBP
Mike Trout .460
Mookie Betts .438
Christian Yelich .402
J.D. Martinez .402
Lorenzo Cain .395
Bryce Harper .393
Shin-Soo Choo .377
Andrew McCutchen .368
Tommy Pham .367
Aaron Hicks .366

From that same crop of outfielders, here is the full list of batters with a better walk rate in 2018:

Outfielder BB %
Mike Trout 20.1%
Bryce Harper 18.7%

I’ll spare you yet another table, but again from that crop of outfielders established above, only McCutchen and Betts did a better job of not swinging outside the zone than Hicks last season.

Consider too that underlying metrics suggest his power uptick in 2018 could be for real. From 2017 to 2018, he put barrel to ball more often (7.5% became 8.8%), saw his exit velocity increase nearly 4 mph (85.7 to 88.9) and his launch angle tick up nearly two degrees (10.6 to 12.5).

In laymen’s terms? He hit the ball a lot harder last year. That’s a good thing.

So what are the risks?

Well, the injury issue for one. Fortunately, Hicks hasn’t been plagued by the same injury over and over; it’s been a hamstring here, an oblique there, etc. It all adds up, though, and if you told me Hicks never plays more than, say, 120 games in any season during this contract I wouldn’t exactly be shocked. 0

The contract length also is a smidge uncomfortable. Hicks is 29 and the Yankees are paying for a healthy chunk of his mid-30s. Sure, there are the usual concerns about decline, but the average annual value of the contract is so absurdly low ($10 million is a smooth bargain for the Yankees) that it hardly matters. It’s less than half of what Jacoby Ellsbury’s Milk Carton makes right now. Seriously.

Bottom line: if Hicks falls below replacement level in year four or whatever, the salary won’t prevent the Yankees from making a move.

From the player’s perspective, given how free agency has played out and with the ever-present threat of labor turmoil on the horizon, Hicks took security over potential. Can’t say I blame him. It keeps him on a winning team with guaranteed checks coming.