Over the span of the first four years of his seven-year contract extension, Aaron Hicks went from the Yankees’ starting center fielder to an oft-injured, part-time player who spent more time as the bane of Yankees’ fans existence than he did on the field.
Perhaps no image showed the intersection of his and the fans’ frustrations more than one taken last September, when, after misplaying a ball in the left field corner, Hicks sulked with his head down while play continued on the fair ball, and fans were in disbelief in the stands around him.
And that was when, as the fans started chanting “Joey Gallo” at him in a derisive manner, he finally understood why Gallo was reticent to even leave his apartment in NYC, and was ready to get out of town when he was dealt to the Dodgers last summer.
“Baseball wasn’t fun,” Hicks told Chris Kirschner in an exclusive interview with The Athletic released Tuesday. “It was kind of one of those things where your team is winning and that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what’s fun about the game is being able to win all of the time. But when you’re not contributing, it kind of starts to feel like you’re not doing what you should be doing. I know the player I’m capable of being and I wasn’t even close to it. That’s just the way the season went.”
Hicks, who ended up hitting .216 in 130 games last year, understood the frustration, telling Kirschner he knew his season “was not going great.” And, as great as manager Aaron Boone has always been about downplaying if a player might be pressing, well…Hicks certainly was late in the year.
“I felt like I was trying to force things that I normally wouldn’t,” Hicks told Kirschner. “I was forcing myself to get big hits. I was forcing myself to swing out of the zone to do something to help the team win. A lot of that got me into trouble. Essentially, I just lost my approach.”
Over the offseason, Hicks wondered if maybe he needed a change of scenery even, but he also did some soul-searching on his game – and as he told Kirschner, looking back at his stellar 2018 season, he noticed some differences in his batting stance, most notably hand position, that he’s going to try to go back to this year to try to get back on track.
The Yankees have not yet added any reinforcements or “upgrades” in the outfield, so it looks like Hicks will be competing with a handful of players for the left field job – one of which told Kirschner Hicks was the player he leaned on most when learning left field on the fly last year.
“He was a mentor for me last year. When I was playing left field, he would come with me all of the time and tell me what I needed to watch out for. He gave me tips that I know I needed when I had that moment playing there,” Oswaldo Cabrera told Kirschner. “That’s the one thing I appreciate about that guy, and I feel glad to be with him here because he was so open in helping me all of the time. He’s so strong mentally, and that’s one thing I’ve taken away from him; he comes here every day playing hard and trying to compete, and it’s not easy playing in the position he was in last year.”
A re-emergence for Hicks would be huge, especially as a deadline looms for the Yankees if they decide they need to part ways: Hicks picks up 10-and-5 rights in August – 10 years in MLB, five straight with the same team – and would be able to veto any trades thanks to that status.
If Hicks’ struggles continue and force them to look for reinforcements at the deadline again, they will almost certainly look to deal Hicks or, as a last resort, perhaps release him with just over two years and $23 or so million left on the deal.
The clubhouse has his back, as Anthony Rizzo said Sunday, and Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman have said they believe Hicks can bounce back.
The only thing to do now it actually do it.
“If I’m able to go out and be who I know I can be, we’ll probably never have this conversation again,” Hicks told Kirschner. “It’s just being able to do what I know I can do and stay within myself. If I do that, I know I’ll be just fine.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN
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