In words completely foreign to Yankee fans even 90 days ago, Aaron Hicks’ return complicates the Bombers’ lineup and roster choices, and there simply might not be room for him.
For those who missed it, Hicks surprisingly stated that he’s ready to return for the ALCS. The center fielder has been out since Aug. 3 with a right flexor strain and will likely avoid Tommy John surgery, but reports initially cast doubt on his ability to return for the postseason.
Now, after missing a postseason round, Hicks could be back. As part of the taxi squad in Tampa, Hicks has reportedly faced live pitching and been making throws.
The problem for Hicks is that the Yankees are rolling and have settled upon a starting nine, one that features Giancarlo Stanton in left field, Brett Gardner in center and Edwin Encarnacion as the designated hitter. If Hicks came back to the lineup, it would necessitate moving one of those three to the bench.
This is absolutely getting ahead of matters at hand. While Hicks believes he’s ready to go, the Yankees haven’t intimated as such. Neither Aaron Boone nor the New York brass have mentioned Hicks as likely to return soon.
The 30-year-old center fielder has had an undeniably rough season on the field. Hicks was limited to just 59 games and 255 plate appearances this season. He had his moments, particularly once he was further removed from his preseason back injury, yet he posted a league-average batting line (103 OPS+, 102 wRC+, 100 DRC+). He’s now been away from the team for the stretch run and a victorious postseason round.
Hicks is at the disadvantage of needing to get two swings in order as a switch-hitter. Furthermore, he doesn’t have Minor League rehab games, nor the comfort of coming into less meaningful Major League games. If he returned to the roster, any game he entered would be of the highest stakes possible. We’ve seen an equivalent situation with Kyle Schwarber in the 2016 World Series, but that’s one of few, if any, comparables.
If healthy, Hicks would improve the Yankees’ outfield by shifting Gardner to left field. That could make him a better fourth outfielder/defensive replacement than Cameron Maybin, though Maybin is healthy and has a home run in the postseason. Taking him off the roster for Hicks would be painful. The Bombers could also remove Luke Voit or Tyler Wade to carry Hicks.
Still, as wild as it sounds, removing Gardner from center, let alone the starting lineup, for Hicks at this stage would be a mistake. Hicks could serve a role on the postseason roster if he’s truly healthy, but his spot in the starting lineup for the rest of 2019 is far from assured.
Just four months ago, we speculated how the Yankees’ Death Star lineup would work and whether Maybin would retain a roster spot as the team got healthy. Gardner and Gio Urshela were both ticketed for bench roles.
Hicks now is the one on the outside looking in. That’s uncomfortable to say about the outfielder who was extended through 2025 before the season, but it’s true for the time being and Hicks’ window to contribute is limited as the ALCS approaches.