The Cardinals have been hopeful of working out an extension with closer Jordan Hicks, but as of yesterday, talks had failed to progress. There’s no indication yet that the Cardinals feel an extension decidedly will not be reached, but while the situation remains unresolved, the Rangers have been angling to hammer out a trade bringing Hicks to Texas, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi recently reported that the Rangers have been exploring trades that could simultaneously address both their rotation and bullpen needs; speculatively speaking, the Cardinals could be a match in such a deal, with both Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty expected to be traded between now and Tuesday’s deadline. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News offered a similar report this morning, noting that Texas could look to do the bulk of its shopping in one trade. Grant echoes prior reports that Texas has talked to the White Sox about Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and he further adds that the Rangers have some degree of interest in Sox relievers Keynan Middleton, Kendall Graveman and Aaron Bummer.
Hicks would be the second power arm added to the Texas bullpen in the past month. The Rangers jumped the relief market and kicked off the summer trade season by acquiring Aroldis Chapman from the Royals in late June, and it’s been well documented that they’re still looking for bullpen reinforcements.
Hicks, a free agent at season’s end despite still being just 26 years old, would fill that need in spades. He’s shaken off a rocky start to the season and been one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the sport dating back to early May. In his past 28 2/3 frames, the flamethrowing righty has pitched to a 1.88 ERA with a 31.4% strikeout rate, an 8.5% walk rate and a mammoth 66.7% ground-ball rate — all while averaging a blistering 100.6 mph on his sinker. He’s doing so while playing on a modest $1.8375MM salary agreed upon over the winter to avoid arbitration in his final season of eligibility.
Overall, Hicks currently sports a 3.67 ERA in 41 2/3 innings, though fielding-independent metrics like FIP (3.02) and SIERA (3.40) are a bit more bullish. Command has long been an issue for Hicks, but after walking nearly 20% of his opponents through May 7, he’s since sporting that previously mentioned 8.5% rate — roughly in line with the league average.
Durability has been the other primary knock on Hicks. Since debuting as a 21-year-old back in 2018, he’s pitched just 219 1/3 big league innings. A 2019 UCL tear ended that season in June and sidelined him for the entire 2020 campaign, and Hicks has also spent time on the injured list due to inflammation in that surgically repaired elbow, a flexor strain in his right arm, and neck spasms. The 77 2/3 innings he pitched as a rookie still represent a career-high, and the 40 appearances he’s made this season already mark the second-highest total of his career, next to that rookie campaign.
Hicks has avoided the injured list this season and generally been able to take the ball whenever the Cards have needed, however. He’s frequently worked back-to-back days and pitched on three consecutive days as recently as mid-June. He’s seen a modest dip in his velocity of late, “only” averaging 99.6 mph on his sinker over his past six appearances, though that includes a 100.4 mph average in his most recent appearance.
As for the White Sox group, any would add a talented arm to the back of the Texas ’pen. I took a look at Middleton’s quiet resurgence earlier this month, although he’s been scuffling of late — with a dozen runs allowed in his past 14 innings. He’s still carrying a 3.82 ERA, 30.7% strikeout rate and 10.7% walk rate this year while averaging nearly 96 mph on his heater (and playing on a low-cost deal). Graveman, signed through 2024 on a deal that pays him $8MM annually, has a 3.48 ERA with a roughly average 22.6% strikeout rate and an elevated 10.6% walk rate. His typically excellent ground-ball rate has wilted to a below-average 39.4% in 2023. Bummer has struggled to an ERA north of 6.00 but still has excellent strikeout and grounder rates on the year, with a lofty BABIP and unusually low strand rate contributing to his struggles (as I explored in a bit more detail yesterday).