BALTIMORE -- Mike Elias was monitoring the transactions log -- as all MLB general managers do -- when he noticed a line that piqued his interest late last week. On Friday, the Yankees released Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitting veteran center fielder. The Orioles, meanwhile, were lacking a bit of CF depth, especially ones who can hit from the left side.
Baltimore checked in with Hicks’ camp, but the club didn’t make a move. Then, Cedric Mullins sustained a right groin strain in the eighth inning of Monday’s 5-0 loss to Cleveland. Mullins underwent testing that showed he was likely to miss at least multiple weeks.
It made the Orioles’ decision to reconnect with Hicks an easy one.
“It seemed like a good fit even more so at that time,” Elias said. “There’s always guys floating around throughout the year, and it just takes the right opportunity to make something line up.”
As Baltimore placed Mullins on the injured list Tuesday, it also signed Hicks to a Major League deal and added the 33-year-old to its active roster. He arrived at Camden Yards and took batting practice two hours before the game vs. the Guardians, but he was not immediately inserted into the lineup for the O’s, who now have a full 40-man roster.
Hicks, who was designated for assignment on May 20 before getting let go by New York, was having a tough season, the 11th of his big league career (and his eighth with the Yanks). In 28 games, he slashed .188/.263/.261 with two doubles, one homer and five RBIs.
There were better times earlier in Hicks’ Yankees tenure, though. He even received a 10th-place American League MVP Award vote in 2018, when he swatted 27 homers and posted an .833 OPS over a career-high 137 games. Hicks also had several solid postseason performances, including when he went 7-for-18 in the 2020 AL Division Series vs. Tampa Bay.
“I hope what doesn’t get lost is a couple of really good seasons that he had here. Had some good postseason moments here,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Friday. “And then some injuries really impacted his time here, probably impacted his career and his ability to get back to that level.”
Hicks is healthy now, and Elias is optimistic about a potential bounce-back performance in Baltimore.
“He’s, hopefully, going to be the right guy at the right time to help us out from here,” Elias said. “We have stuff that we look at from a scouting and evaluation perspective that, as I’ve said before, it’s very different from just looking at the back of a baseball card.”
Mullins, a former All-Star and Silver Slugger, is among the best center fielders in the AL. It won’t be easy to replace the 28-year-old lefty hitter’s offensive production (.263/.356/.479 with eight homers and 39 RBIs) -- especially because so much of it comes from the leadoff spot -- or the energy he brings to a mostly young, less experienced clubhouse.
Hicks could serve as another veteran leader for that group. But he may not get asked by the Orioles to be an everyday starter. While Elias said Hicks is “going to play,” Ryan McKenna and potentially even Austin Hays, who are both right-handed hitters, could get some time in center.
Colton Cowser (the team’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 29 overall prospect) and Kyle Stowers, both lefty hitters, are on the injured list at Triple-A Norfolk, which is why neither was an option to be recalled.
Baltimore likes how Hays handles left field, which became much more expansive at Camden Yards when the wall was pushed back before the 2022 season. McKenna may be a better defender than Hicks, but Hicks possesses a bat with more pop.
“We’re just going to take it day to day, honestly,” manager Brandon Hyde said of the playing time in CF. “Like a lot of stuff we do, it’s matchup-based. This just adds another dimension with a guy that can switch-hit and has a ton of experience and been a part of winning teams before. So I love that aspect -- we bring somebody with that sort of resume.”