The New York Yankees finally went to a seventh year to get a deal done, but it wasn’t with the player many expected going into the offseason.
The Yankees announced a seven-year, $70 million extension with eminently underrated center fielder Aaron Hicks on Monday, officially taking them out of the running for Bryce Harper. The deal runs through 2025 and includes a team option for 2026.
Hicks, 29, had a breakout season last year when he finally stayed healthy with 27 home runs and a .248/.366/.467 line; his 4.9 WAR ranked 29th among hitters. In fact, his 8.2 WAR over the last two season almost exactly matches Harper’s 8.3.
The extension is notable for several reasons that largely come back to the glacially slow free agent market. Hicks is worth more than $10 million per year — or $10.7 million when excluding the $6 million he was already due in the final year of arbitration — but he was willing to lock in money to avoid free agency and stay with a contender.
Is Hicks worth the money?
Money has often been no object for the Yankees, although they have recently made an effort to stay under the luxury tax. That self-imposed budget has kept them from signing Harper, Manny Machado or even Patrick Corbin.
Hicks’ contract will certainly not break the bank, however, and the steep discount will make it easier for the Yankees to stay under the luxury tax going forward. With recent estimates pegging the value of 1 WAR at over $10 million, Hicks projects to make up almost half the value of his contract this season alone with a 3.3 WAR projection from Steamer.
With Hicks, the key is often his health. Last season was Hicks’ first of recording at least 400 plate appearances, although it was also his first in a full-time role. In his three years with the Yankees, the former first-round pick and top-20 overall prospect has missed time due to a right hamstring strain, tight left hamstring, right oblique injury and intercostal muscle injury.
It’s certainly easy to imagine that Hicks may not be an everyday player at the end of his contract when he is 35, but if he plays anything like he has in the last few years, he will certainly be worth $70 million over the front end of the deal.
The reasoning for Hicks signing this deal is fairly clear: he locks in a long commitment for life-changing money. His career has turned around with the Yankees, and he won’t have to worry about being unsigned going into next February, when he would be a free agent. And in a time when many 30-year-olds are struggling to get three years on a deal, he managed to lock in seven.
What does this mean for Bryce Harper?
There have long been rumors of the Yankees signing Harper, and even as the Yankees have said they won’t go over the luxury tax to meet Harper’s $300 million demand, there has been a lingering feeling that the Bronx Bombers might jump back into the race and snatch him up.
However, that ship has officially sailed with Hicks’ extension. There is no room at the inn with Hicks in center and some combination of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Brett Gardner in the corners plus oft-injured Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier fighting for playing time.
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At this point, it seems increasingly likely that Harper will land with the Philadelphia Phillies, assuming they up their offer above the $300 million the Washington Nationals already offered and Manny Machado got from the San Diego Padres.
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