Center fielder Aaron Hicks and reliever Dellin Betances represent a pair of the Yankees’ best soon-to-be free agents, but it’s possible the team will prevent them from reaching the open market next winter. The club has “broached” contract extensions with Hicks and Betances, James Wagner of the New York Times reports. It’s unclear whether the Yankees have made headway in talks with either player, however.
After joining the Yankees in a November 2015 trade with the Twins, Hicks endured a 2016 to forget in his first season in the Bronx. He has since blossomed into one of the majors’ most valuable center fielders, though, as he combined for 8.2 fWAR and in 225 games and 942 plate appearances from 2017-18. Hicks derived most of his value last season from his bat, with which he produced a potent .248/.366/.467 line. Along the way, the switch-hitting Hicks managed career highs in home runs (27), wRC+ (127) and isolated power (.219), also posting an excellent walk rate (15.5 percent, compared to an above-average strikeout percentage of 19.1), stealing 11 bases on 13 tries and earning elite overall baserunning marks from FanGraphs. Defensive Runs Saved (minus-3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (0.7) weren’t enamored of Hicks’ work in center, especially compared to his output in 2017 (15 DRS, 7.0 UZR), but he was still worth a lofty 4.9 fWAR on the season.
Now, as he enters his age-29 season, Hicks is open to an extension to remain in New York.
“It’s an amazing place with a great future and of course it’s something I’d like to be a part of,” Hicks told Wagner, and he suggested earlier in the week (via Randy Miller of NJ.com) that the contract A.J. Pollock signed with the Dodgers in free agency this offseason could be a starting point in negotiations.
“Of course,” Hicks said of Pollock’s four-year, $60MM guarantee. “When center fielders get contracts, of course I’m going to get excited about that. He’s a good player and he’s going to a good team.”
Hicks was the better, more durable player than Pollock over the previous two seasons, and the former’s also two years younger than the latter. Hicks’ reps at CAA Sports are sure to emphasize those points in their discussions with the Yankees, and as we noted earlier in the offseason, they could perhaps try to push their client closer to the $80MM-plus guarantees center fielders Dexter Fowler and Lorenzo Cain signed during the 2016 and ’17 offseasons, respectively. For now, Hicks is slated to make a more-than-reasonable $6MM salary in 2019 after avoiding arbitration with the Yankees last month.
Betances, like Hicks, avoided arbitration in January, agreeing to a $7.125MM sum. It’s the second straight year in which the two sides found common ground and forewent arbitration, which is notable given the battle between Betances and the Yankees in February 2017. Back then, the sides engaged in a contentious arbitration hearing which culminated in a win for the Yankees and a public spat between Betances’ camp and team president Randy Levine. Betances hinted then that he was looking forward to free agency, but it’s unknown whether the New York City native has changed his stance since then.
What is clear is that Betances has been a world-class setup man dating back to his 2014 debut. Over his first half-decade in the majors, the towering right-hander led all relievers in fWAR (11.6) and innings pitched (373 1/3), and he also ranked toward the top of the sport in ERA (2.22), FIP (2.26) and K/9 (14.63, compared to 3.91 BB/9). Betances is now coming off a year in which he continued to pump high-90s heat while logging a strong 2.70 ERA/2.47 FIP across 66 2/3 frames, over which he registered a ridiculous 15.53 strikeouts per nine (trailing only teammate Aroldis Chapman and the Brewers’ Josh Hader in that regard) against a manageable 3.51 BB/9.
All of Betances’ numbers suggest the Excel Sports Management client is on track to land a sizable deal sometime before the 2020 season, whether from the Yankees or another team. While youth isn’t necessarily on Betances’ side – he’ll turn 31 next month – similarly aged, arguably less desirable relievers such as teammate Zack Britton (three years, $39MM) and the Rockies’ Wade Davis (three years, $52MM) have scored big deals in free agency dating back to December 2017. Betances could also be keeping an eye on free agent Craig Kimbrel, who’s had a difficult time on the market over the past few months but still figures to rake in a lucrative contract before the upcoming campaign.
While the Yankees are clearly interested in keeping Hicks and Betances in the fold for the foreseeable future, they aren’t the championship hopefuls’ only notable pending free agents. Injured shortstop Didi Gregorius, outfielder Brett Gardner and backup catcher Austin Romine are also scheduled to reach the market after the season. It’s unknown if the Yankees have discussed new contracts with any of them, however.