Aaron Hicks started the 2023 season as a starting corner outfielder for the New York Yankees. Aaron Hicks also started the season as one of the worst hitting outfielders in all of baseball. And yet, when 2023 was all said and done, Hicks proved what Orioles Magic can do to rejuvenate a player.
When the Orioles signed the recently-released Hicks to the active roster on May 30th, it left a lot of Birdland feeling uneasy. On one hand, the Orioles needed another outfielder after Cedric Mullins landed on the IL with a strained groin. And yet, signing Hicks to fill that need sort of felt like paying taxes or shelling out a couple hundred bucks for routine service on your car. Yes, those are things you need to do, just like the Orioles needed outfield depth. However parting with your valuable resources to do them still feels mildly irritating at best. For the vast majority of Birdland, who dreamed of the promotion of Colton Cowser or Heston Kjerstad to replace Mullins, the signing of Hicks felt like a similar mild irritation.
The reaction was understandable. After all, O’s fans’ most recent impression of Hicks was not only that of a Yankee—but a Yankee who wasn’t any good. The veteran outfielder started the year with New York slashing .188/.263/.261 with more strikeouts (20) than hits (13). After 28 games filled with struggles, the Yankees decided to part ways with Hicks, ending a tenure that spanned 651 games over eight seasons.
For an Orioles organization that epitomized the mindset of aggressively promoting their own homegrown talent, the Hicks signing flew completely in the face of their normal roster building philosophy. Mike Elias & Co. seemed to be working on blind faith in hoping that a 33-year-old outfielder who had only played 100+ games three times in his career could make a tangible difference on this young, ascending Orioles team.
Almost immediately, Hicks rewarded the faith that the Orioles front office showed in him. After his first two weeks in Baltimore, he had the same number of hits that he had in the first two months with the Yankees. Over his first 15 games for the O’s, the switch-hitting Hicks delivered a 14-46 performance at plate with five extra base hits, six RBIs and a triple slash of .304/.418/.522. In game 17, Hicks delivered a 1st-inning, three-run homer and an 8th-inning RBI single to play the hero in a 8-6 win at Tampa Bay.
Through his first month as an Oriole, Hicks not only succeeded in replacing the injured Mullins, but arguably made the O’s offense even better. While he couldn’t quite maintain the 1.000+ OPS, through the month of June Hicks slashed .270/.393/.500 while showing vastly improved plate discipline compared to his time with the Yankees.
That level of production was perhaps just a flash in the pan, as Hicks’ performance started to diminish as the O’s got deeper into summer. In July he went from everyday starter to platoon player in the outfield—coinciding with the return of Mullins from the injured list and promotion of Cowser. Whether his dip in form caused his reduction in ABs or the other way around, Hicks certainly dropped off in July. The veteran outfielder’s average dropped to .228 in July while his strikeout rate rose from 24% in June to 30% in July.
Hicks was still useful depth as Mullins continued to battle injuries and Cowser struggled to adjust to life at the Majors. However, he was no longer an integral part of the Orioles lineup as they marched toward contender status for the first time in close to a decade. Then another of Hicks’ ugly recurring themes reared its head: injuries.
Two stints on the IL served as the interlude to Hays’ third act of his 2023 season. The outfielder injured his hamstring on a diving catch in Philadelphia July 24th. That injury would see Hicks spend the next three weeks before returning in a road game against San Diego on August 14th. That return was short-lived, however, as Hicks picked up a back injury in that game against the Padres. He spent another 18 days on the shelf before finally returning to full action September 3rd in Arizona.
The time away recuperating clearly did Hicks some good as September saw him put up his best numbers since his scorching hot month of June. In his first eight games back from the IL, Hicks went 13-28 while slashing .464/.531/.643 while picking up nine RBIs. He’d cool off as the month wore on, but his .303 average, .826 OPS and 11 RBIs throughout September undoubtedly helped buoy an Orioles offense that was wildly inconsistent down the stretch.
Hicks also provided two of the most memorable moments of the Orioles’ brief postseason run. He gave the Orioles their only lead in the entire ALDS when he poked a two-run single to right field in the top of the 1st in Game 2. Later in that game, Hicks tried to breathe life into an Orioles comeback attempt when he launched a three-run home into the center field bleachers to get the O’s within three.
It's not over yet... Aaron Hicks goes yard to make it a 3-run game in the 9th— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 8, 2023
: FS1 pic.twitter.com/GcGGOys3ex
However, the hot stretches and postseason heroics almost certainly won’t be enough to keep Hicks on the roster in 2024. The outfield already presents a big enough logjam for the Orioles considering Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Mullins and Kjerstad are all but guaranteed to make the opening day roster. The O’s will certainly be looking to bring Cowser back to the big leagues as well, meaning all OF spots are spoken for before we even get to the offseason and free agency.
Hicks will likely go down in Orioles history as merely a footnote—the reverse Brian Roberts who left New York to try and extend his career in Baltimore. His performance for the O’s could very well do that, as it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team in need of a veteran outfielder take a flier on Hicks this offseason.
Perhaps Hicks’ biggest accomplishment as an Oriole is turning a fanbase that was almost unanimously skeptical of his signing into one that was grateful for his time on the roster. And yet, it’s probably for the best that that postseason home run remains his last hit as an Oriole.