BRONX, NY - Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks missed most of the 2019 season, and it appears he will be out for most of next season as well.
At his farewell press conference for the season on Thursday afternoon, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman announced that Hicks will have UCL reconstructive surgery, or Tommy John surgery, on October 30 and he will need eight to ten months to recover. This timeline has Hicks returning sometime between next June and August.
The Yankees signed Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million contract this past February after he had a great 2018 season, in which he hit .248 with 27 home runs and 79 RBI.
In spring training, he suffered back injuries that kept him out the first two months of the season.
Then, after playing 59 games in the regular season, he suffered a partially torn UCL on August 3 that kept him out until the playoffs. He returned for the ALCS against Houston, where he played in five of the six games, and hit a big three-run home run off Justin Verlander in Game 5 to keep the series alive before they lost the series the next night.
"He's getting Tommy John because he needs it, that's the bottom line," Cashman said. "I think, obviously, he was feeling it regardless of getting back. We tried to address this in the past, but when he had the in-season injury, there was a rest and rehab process that was put in play - that process failed because the pain immediately came back. He was put in a longer rest and rehab recovery time, which would lead him into missing the entire postseason, and then trying it sometime in the winter, probably closer to the December, January range with a throwing program and see how he felt then.
"If that failed, then it would be Tommy John, and we know the narrative now. That's why he returned home to Arizona and he decided to start a throwing program behind the scenes in a more truncated time frame. It responded well enough to get him back going, but obviously once this season ended - he played great for us in the postseason obviously - the feeling of 'there's something here that's still not right,' the follow-up doctor exam, etc. led to the ultimate decision, we've got to get this thing fixed or it's just going to blow in February, March, April."
The obvious candidate to take over center field is Brett Gardner, who had arguably the best season of his career, as he hit .251 with 28 home runs and 74 RBI in 141 games, primarily in left field.
The Yankees brought Gardner back on a one-year contract for outfield insurance this season, and with injuries to Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge, wound up being one of the Yankees' most valuable players as they won 103 games in the regular season and ran away with the American League East crown.
"In terms of Brett Gardner, I don't think there's any questions about what his capabilities are," Cashman said. "He had a tremendous season, both sides of the ball offensively and defensively, including playing center field, and so obviously he's a free agent, so I guess the main question is, can he handle playing center field in 2020, both offensively and defensively? I don't think there's any question based on the performance put forward this year and in past years."
Another option for the Yankees to plug into center field is Jacoby Ellsbury, who has missed the past two seasons with various injuries, and is entering the last year of his seven-year contract.
When asked about that possibility, Cashman took a deep breath and said, "It's hard to say based on how things have played out, so right now, he's not someone who's in a position health-wise for me to be answering anything in the affirmative right now."
Ellsbury is guaranteed $21.1 million next season, so if he really isn't in their plans, maybe now is the time to finally buy out that contract and open up some payroll flexibility.