The Orioles announced that they have signed outfielder Aaron Hicks to a major league contract and placed fellow outfielder Cedric Mullins on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain. They already had a vacancy on their 40-man roster and won’t require a corresponding move in that regard. JoezMcFly of Pinstripe Strong had reported on the signing of Hicks earlier today.
Hicks, 33, quickly finds a new landing spot after being released by the Yankees last week. That move was prompted by a tepid performance over the past two-plus seasons. Since the start of the 2021 campaign, Hicks has hit .209/.315/.310 for a wRC+ of 83, indicating he’s been 17% below league average in that time. That includes an even worse .188/.263/.261 showing here in 2023.
Prior to that, however, he had been an all-around contributor. From 2017 to 2020, he hit a much stronger .247/.362/.457 for a wRC+ of 123. He combined that with 26 stolen bases and solid defense, much of that in center field. He was worth 8.7 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, over those three full seasons plus the shortened 2020 campaign.
In the midst of that strong run, the Yankees placed a bet on Hicks by signing him to a seven-year, $70MM extension going into 2019. While the first couple seasons of the deal were fairly smooth sailing, Hicks’ performance fell off, as mentioned. That caused the Yanks to cut bait, even though there’s still more than two years remaining on the contract. He’s making $10.5MM this year, with roughly $7MM left to be paid out, and a $9.5MM salary in each of the next two years. The Yanks will remain on the hook for almost all of that, as well as a $1MM buyout on the 2026 club option.
That will allow the Orioles to bring Hicks aboard and pay him only the prorated league minimum salary for any time he spends on the roster, with that amount being subtracted from what the Yankees pay. The O’s will be hoping that a change of scenery can help Hicks look more like the 2017-2020 version of himself as opposed to what he’s shown recently. It’s also possible that there have been reasons for his struggles. He only played 32 games in 2021 due to a wrist injury, then he tried to come back healthier and leaner in 2022. He spoke openly about how he felt that approach deprived him of his power, despite keeping him healthy enough to play 130 games last year. He only hit eight home runs on the year, compared to a career high of 27 in 2018. This year, he only had scattered playing time as the Yanks tried out various younger players in the outfield mix.
There will be essentially no financial risk to the O’s as they bring Hicks into the fold and see if he can move past those circumstances and perhaps find better results. Despite the low cost, there is still the risk that his poor results continue, but it seems they are willing to take that risk in order to try to deal with the absence of Mullins. It’s unclear exactly how long Mullins will be sidelined by this groin injury, but it will be at least 10 days. General manager Mike Elias tells reporters, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, that he’s hoping it will be measured in weeks and not months.
It will be a blow to the club for as long as he’s out, whatever the eventual length of his IL stint. He’s been a key member of the Baltimore lineup, going back to his 2021 breakout. Since the start of that season, he’s hit .273/.341/.463 for a wRC+ of 122 while also stealing 77 bases and providing quality defense in center. Even a bounceback from Hicks will still be a drop-off from that kind of excellent production.
Time will tell exactly how much playing time Hicks gets. As a switch-hitter, he could perhaps take the large side of a platoon alongside right-handed hitters like Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna, with switch-hitter Anthony Santander also in the mix. Hicks has plenty of center field experience but has been more of a left fielder in recent years. Hays, meanwhile, is considered capable of playing center but has spent more time in the corners recently in deference to Mullins.