The Yankees seem increasingly unlikely to receive a late-season (or postseason) contribution from outfielder Aaron Hicks. He’s slated to rest for several more weeks after a visit to the offices of Dr. Neal ElAttrache, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter links).
This is in some respects good news, it bears noting. Hicks had initially avoided the worst-case scenario of Tommy John surgery, but suffered a recent setback in his bid to return from elbow troubles. That option was — and still is — on the table, Sherman suggests. It would certainly be optimal to avoid that outcome, so it’s relatively promising that the medical experts feel it’s still a viable possibility to do so.
Trouble is, Hicks is now in a bit of an awkward situation regarding timing. Even if he’s declared ready to work back towards playing capacity in a few weeks’ time, that’d barely make him available for a possible postseason run. That could have real value to the team, but it’s also not hard to imagine a situation where he simply isn’t ready in time to be trusted with a postseason roster spot.
Even if a late-2019 return isn’t possible, Hicks could conceivably avoid a procedure if he shows sufficient healing progress. With a full offseason of rest, perhaps he’d be able to dodge it altogether. But if surgery does prove necessary, then any delay on the front end will result in an equivalent delay on the back side. With about six months to go until Spring Training, Hicks would likely be delayed in 2020 even if he had the surgery today. (Teammate Didi Gregorius took just under eight months to return from his recent TJ procedure.)
Fortunately, team and player seem to have the same general incentives here. Hicks is playing on an extension that runs for the next six seasons (with an option for one more), so the Yankees can take the long view. He’ll earn $10.5MM annually beginning next season and $9.5MM apiece in 2024 and 2025. With ample depth options, the club can weather an absence, though that would assuredly not be the first choice after the club’s near-miraculous high-wire act in 2019.
More immediately, the Yankees’ outfield depth is again in question. Hicks and Mike Tauchman can’t be counted on, even if there’s some small likelihood that one or the other could be available if needed in a deep playoff run. Giancarlo Stanton is still not quite back. Beyond mainstays Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner, the club is looking at a mix that includes Cameron Maybin, Clint Frazier, and utility pieces such as Thairo Estrada, Breyvic Valera, and Tyler Wade.