The Yankees aren’t “eating” Hicks’s remaining money

Aaron Hicks

The Yankees finally put the lime in the coconut over Aaron Hicks.

Extremely few things cause me indigestion. Talk about a team “eating” money to be rid of an unproductive or faded player is one of them. Such talk erupted again when the Yankees, come Saturday, designated outfielder Aaron Hicks for assignment. It isn’t just fans who don’t know better talking that way. It’s also professional analysts who should.

“You don’t have to understand or agree with the replacement-level concept to agree on this much: there are scores of minor-league outfielders who, given the opportunity, could provide the Yankees with more than Hicks has to date. Just eat the money already,” writes CBS Sports’s R.J. Anderson.

“It’ll be a costly move for the Yankees, with Hicks still owed $19.57MM by way of $9.8MM salaries in 2024-25, and a $1MM buyout on a $12.5MM club option for 2026. He’ll also be owed the remainder of his $10.8MM salary in 2023,” wrote MLB Trade Rumors‘s Simon Hampton. “Hicks will now be exposed to waivers, but his struggles this year and the remaining money owed make it a near certainty he goes unclaimed. Instead, the Yankees could offer to eat the remainder of his contract and try and trade him to another team, or he could be released once he clears waivers.”

Pass the Pepto-Bismol, please. For me. It’s too late for the Yankees regarding Hicks.

Remember when the Diamondbacks bit the bullet and released thoroughly collapsed pitcher Russ Ortiz? The Associated Press said flatly enough that the Snakes decided they’d rather “eat” the $22 million they still owed Ortiz than keep him taking up roster space. Remembering that, Keith Law (in The Inside Game) tried to remind us: they ate nothing.

“That salary was already somewhere in Arizona’s GI tract, likely causing indigestion but there nonetheless,” Law wrote. “Major League Baseball player contracts are guaranteed; there is no way to un-eat that meal.”

Notice that almost no one was talking about somebody eating Eric Hosmer’s contract after the Cubs designated the veteran but fading first baseman earlier the same week? Cynically, you could say it’s because $700,000+ (his MLB-minimum Cub salary) is a mere appetiser compared to the $144 million banquet to which the Padres signed Hosmer during spring training 2018.

That was an eight-year deal which has through the end of the 2016 to run. Some said the Padres elected to eat the rest when they traded Hosmer to the Red Sox last August and sent the Red Sox the last $44 million owed on the deal. Those with something more than mashed potatoes for brains could remind you: the Padres planted that meal down their tract the day they signed him in the first place.

The Yankees thought Hicks would be a good fit after landing him for the 2016 season because he looked like a solid hitter who didn’t strike out a lot compared to a lot of others at the time, and because he had a live-looking throwing arm in the outfield. They didn’t bargain on injury-disrupted seasons that came to bring forth the worst in Yankee fans still struggling with the presence of even more injury-battered Jacoby Ellsbury.

It didn’t help that Hicks wasn’t quite as good as his notices when he could play, though he did have his moments—and a 2018 season solid enough to encourage the Yankees to sign him to a seven-year, $70 million contract extension plus the aforementioned option years during spring training 2019. The fact that he had some pop, wasn’t shy about taking walks, and didn’t strike out in big volume didn’t hurt, either.

In the first three years of the deal, Hicks missed significant time with injuries (wrist, back, elbow) each of the three and, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t play particularly well when he could play. In center field he was about league average for run prevention and for getting to balls in the first place; at the plate, he might have prayed to improve all the way up to league average.

At 33 it might seem that history of injury and inconsistency might put paid to Hicks’s major league career soon enough. Unless he’s willing to accept a purely platoon role on a team needing inexpensive help against portside pitching. (Hicks is a switch hitter but he’s been a little stronger batting righthanded.)

The Yankees finally surrendered after swinging a trade with their most hated rivals (in Boston) to bring aboard outfielder Greg Allen and needing room for him on the roster. Allen isn’t much of a hitter but he’s considered a plus outfield defender and swift on the bases—if he gets there in the first place. (Lifetime on-base percentage: .299.)

The meal has been somewhere between the Yankee belly and the intestines since 2019. They finally, simply, put the lime in the coconut to relieve the bellyache.

From nuts to soup

2019-10-18 AaronHicks

Among other things, Aaron Hicks went where only two Yankee center fielders went before the bottom of the first Friday night . . .

The Astros had no worries entering American League Championship Series Game Five. Other than winning. And maybe the prospect of yet another tiny but noisy pack of Yankee Stadium creatures discovering that maybe Justin Verlander did something naughty before he became one of his generation’s greatest pitchers.

If the Yankees’ least civilised fans could hammer Game Four starter Zack Greinke over his too-real anxiety and clinical depression issues, never mind Greinke saying no, he didn’t hear it, God and His servant Lou Gehrig only knew what they’d try if they discovered Verlander turned up with so much as an unpaid parking ticket in his past.

Playing the Yankees with a trip to the World Series on the line is one thing. To a man the Astros consider that a high honour. “We don’t want to take anything for granted,” said second baseman Jose Altuve after they helped themselves to a heaping Yankee implosion in Game Four. “We want to make sure we win tomorrow. We’re playing against a great team.”

A great team that entered Game Five after a night on which they looked like they couldn’t decide between being the 1962 Mets and the Washington Generals. Not even during the lowest days of their 1965-75 low or the most insane days of George Steinbrenner’s King of Hearts act of the 1980s did the Yankees look that inept.

The Astros are too kind to say the Game Four Yankees looked like they had Abbott catching Costello, the four Marx Brothers in the infield, the Three Stooges in the outfield, Charlie Chaplin coaching first base, Buster Keaton coaching third, and the cast of legendary radio dumb fest It Pays to Be Ignorant in the bullpen. With Allen Funt (Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!) managing them.

Whom would the Yankees resemble in Game Five? Would it be sock-it-to-me time in the south Bronx with the Yankees throwing their own buckets of water over each other? Maybe they’d pratfall to the mound, the bases, the outfield, hollering “Live from New York—it’s Friday night!!”

It’s not that the Astros were entirely without concerns of their own. Verlander may be a Hall of Famer in waiting but even he’s only human. The Rays proved that when Verlander started Game Four of their division series on a mere three days’ rest for the first such short-rest start of his life. And, was had.

Normally, Verlander only human is still better than many if not most. With a trip to the World Series on the line, the last thing the Astros needed for Friday Night Live was a merely human Verlander.

They needed a reasonable facsimile of the Hall of Famer in waiting who entered Game Five with a lifetime 2.89 ERA when he faces the same team twice in a postseason contest. They needed a reasonable facsimile of the Verlander who had a lifetime 1.05 ERA in three previous lifetime shots at closing out a postseason series.

The Astros got that reasonable facsimile Friday night. The trouble was that they had to wait until after the first inning to get it. And that was after the top of the first looked as though it was going to be another round of Yankee slapstick handing the Astros their World Series trip.

When George Springer shot a leadoff grounder under Yankee starter James Paxton’s glove that second baseman Gleyber Torres couldn’t barehand, and Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez allowed him to second on a passed ball, the fun looked like it was beginning for the Astros again. And, like it would continue after Springer reached third on a Jose Altuve ground out and scored on a wild pitch off Sanchez’s knee.

You’d have forgiven the Yankee Stadium public address people for sounding opening bars of “Dance of the Cuckoos,” right?

Even allowing the chilly Yankee Stadium night nobody, maybe even the Yankees, expected D.J. LeMahieu to lead off the bottom of the first by sending an 0-1 Verlander fastball into the right center field seats. Or, Aaron Judge to send a base hit into left and Torres to dump a quail down the left field line for first and third. Or, Aaron Hicks wringing a full count before ripping one off the right field foul pole.

And that’s the way the scoring remained in Game Five, the Yankees winning 4-1.

That pole ringer was only the third time any Yankee center fielder hit an elimination-game bomb to put the Yankees ahead. Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle did it to break a two-all tie off National League Rookie of the Year Joe Black in Game Seven of the 1952 World Series. And Roger Maris—usually a right fielder but playing center this time out—nailed one off the Cardinals’ Curt Simmons to bust a one-all tie in Game Six of the 1964 Series.

And never before in their long history of postseason presence and triumph had the Yankees ever hit a pair of first-inning bombs. That, folks, covers (count ’em) 404 baseball games. And all it took was an all-fields-hitting first baseman and a center fielder who missed over two months with an injured right elbow before he came back for the ALCS.

“We wanted to get ahead early,” Hicks told ESPN’s Buster Olney in a postgame field interview. “To take the first punch.”

Verlander never surrendered two first-inning home runs in any postseason game in his life until Friday night. And it was just the second time in 29 postseason starts that he surrendered four runs or more. “It was a combination of things,” he said after the game in front of his locker. “Fastball command wasn’t very good, and the slider was just hanging. I just wasn’t able to execute really anything.”

But from there he and Paxton, plus three Yankee relievers and Brad Peacock in his first postseason gig out of the Astro pen, hung nothing but zeroes up while putting on a pitching clinic so profound you were tempted to wonder whether pitching in the cold was their real secret weapon after that testy enough first.

Each pitcher kept each batter from much more than soft contact the rest of the way, each pushed periodic threats to one side, thank you, if you didn’t count Tommy Kahnle surrendering a base hit and a four-pitch walk following a seventh inning-opening out.

Verlander after the first resembled as close to his Hall of Fame self as he could on such a frigid night, and Paxton resembled the guy who pitched up big enough down the stretch as opposed to the guy who couldn’t get out of the third inning in Game Two. And Paxton looked like a reasonable facsimile striking out nine in six to Verlander’s nine in seven.

And there wasn’t a pratfall, tumble, stumble, rumble, trip, bad hand, or butter finger to be found from the first inning forward until Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman shot through the top of the ninth with strikeout, fly out to left, and ground out to third faster than you could say see you back in Houston.

“Getting those runs were big,” Paxton said in an on-field interview. “I was grinding the whole time, that’s a great team over there, they really battle, so I had to grind all the time. Making one pitch at a time.”

Never before, too, in 1,608 previous postseason games, too, had any pair of contestants scored in the first inning together without scoring a single run further the rest of the way.

Both sides turned in some defensive acrobatics, from LeMahieu tumbling to the foul track and falling toward the sidewall to catch Yuli Gurriel’s third-inning pop foul to late Astros right field insertion Josh Reddick running Gio Urshela’s long fly to right down deep in the corner and making a basket catch before he might have hit the wall to end the Yankee seventh.

The Yankees hope they don’t hit the wall in Game Six; the Astros would love nothing better than to make them hit it hard enough to send the ‘Stros back to the World Series. And considering the likelihood that it may be a bullpen game for both sides, with neither manager seeming to want to short-rest their Game Three starters Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, Game Six should be a very intriguing running of the bulls.

At this writing the arms that begin Game Six may be anyone’s guess. Nobody’s said anything yet out of either team’s camp, but speculations runs that it could be Jose Urquidy for the Astros to open and, maybe, Chad Greene or J.A. Happ (who has starting experience) for the Yankees.

Not that either team’s necessarily worried. “If we find out in the morning,” said Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge, “we’ll do our homework and get ready.”

“Everybody’s ready,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman.

Not everybody. One Twitter twit lamented, “Such a sad day for baseball.” Please. You’re trying to win, you need to not send a pair of prime starters out on short rest because it’s liable to mean disaster, for them and for your team. You do what you must to win. The game won’t be any worse and probably be a little more of a good old fashioned hair raiser.

Such a sad day for baseball is actually an idea as old as the year Rhapsody in Blue and Mercedes-Benz were born, Woodrow Wilson died, and Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson perfected the starter-as-reliever technique that this year’s National League pennant winner applied mostly successfully.

And on Saturday evening, 7:08 Central standard time, the best two teams in the American League this year will play to win in Minute Maid Park. One of them will win the pennant or host a Game Seven. One will force a Game Seven or lose the pennant.  Let’s play ball!