The Angels announced the signing of veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks on a major league deal. Left-hander Kolton Ingram was designated for assignment in a corresponding 40-man roster move. Hicks, a CAA client, previously signed a contract extension with the Yankees, a deal that runs through 2025. The Yanks released him last year and are still on the hook for what’s left, meaning the Angels will only owe the prorated $740K league minimum for any time spent on the roster, with that amount subtracted from what the Yankees pay.
Hicks, 34, had a strong run with the Yankees earlier in his career, performing as an all-around player in the Bronx. From 2017 to 2020, he drew walks in 15.1% of his plate appearances while only striking out at a 20.5% clip. He hit 60 home runs in 338 games, leading to a .247/.362/.457 batting line and a 123 wRC+. He also stole 26 bases and served as the club’s primary center fielder.
It was midway through that stretch, going into 2019, that the Yanks bought into Hicks and signed him to an extension. He was just one year away from free agency at the time but agreed to a seven-year, $70MM pact that was supposed to keep him in the Bronx through 2025. He had already agreed to a $6MM salary for 2019 so the deal added six years and $64MM of new money. That was a relative rarity for the club, as shown on MLBTR’s Contract Tracker. Since February of 2014, that’s one of just three extensions given out by the Yanks, the other two being for Luis Severino and Aroldis Chapman.
Health became an issue in the early parts of that contract. In 2019, he went on the injured list due to a left lower back strain and then again due to a right flexor strain, only playing 59 games that year. In 2020, the pandemic shortened the season to 60 games, with Hicks playing in 54 of them. Then in 2021, a left wrist injury limited him to just 32 contests and poor performance when on the field. The shortened season obviously wasn’t his fault but he nonetheless found himself having been unable to log a normal amount of playing time in three straight seasons.
He was finally able to stay healthy in 2022, getting into 130 contests for the Yanks that year. But he hit just eight home runs in that time and his .216/.330/.313 slash line led to a wRC+ of just 91. He told Dan Martin of The New York Post in September of 2022 that he tried to come back from wrist surgery lean and athletic to stay healthy but that it backfired by sapping his power. His struggles continued in the early parts of the 2023 season, leading the Yankees to release him in May, despite the contract still having another two full guaranteed years.
The Orioles took a shot on Hicks, a move with no real financial risk since the Yanks were stuck holding the bag. Hicks bounced back in Baltimore, hitting seven home runs in 65 games, leading to a .275/.381/.425 slash line and 129 wRC+. He also stole six bases and helped the O’s by slotting into each of the three outfield positions.
That’s still a fairly small sample size of success after more than two years of struggles, but it’s sensible for the Angels to take the risk that he could perform well in the coming season. Hicks is still set to make a salary of $9.5MM both this year and next, then there’s a $1MM buyout on a 2026 club option, but the Yanks will be paying the majority of that. The Halos will only have to pay the prorated portion of the $740K league minimum for any time that Hicks spends on their roster.
For Hicks, money would not have been a factor in signing this deal since his salary is already set. It’s possible that he was attracted to playing his home games in Southern California, as he was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Long Beach. Beyond that, the Angels are at least going to attempt fielding a competitive team this year and could perhaps offer Hicks some decent playing time.
The club’s outfield mix prior to signing Hicks consisted of Mike Trout, Taylor Ward, Mickey Moniak and Jo Adell. Trout is obviously one of the most talented players in the game but durability has started to become a bit of a concern. Thanks to some nagging injuries and the shortened 2020 season, he hasn’t played 120 games in a campaign since 2019. Adding a player capable of playing some center field like Hicks could perhaps help Trout stay healthy as he goes into a season in which he will turn 33 years old.
Ward has only once played 100 games in a season, which was in 2022. Last year, he was limited to 97 contests, his season ending on a scary incident when he was hit in the face by a pitch from Alek Manoah. Moniak seemed to have something of a breakout last year, hitting 14 home runs in 85 games. But he’s likely due for some regression when considering his 2.8% walk rate, 35% strikeout rate and .397 batting average on balls in play. Adell has similar walk and strikeout rates across the past four seasons without the semi-encouraging power surge to go with. Considering that mix, there should be plenty of playing time available to Hicks. The designated hitter slot is also open now that Shohei Ohtani has signed with the Dodgers.
It’s possible that this move bodes particularly poorly for Adell. He has received part-time action in each of the past four campaigns but has hit just .214/.259/.366 while striking out at a 35.4% clip and walking in only 4.8% of his plate appearances. Though he was a 10th overall selection back in 2017, he is now out of options and doesn’t have a clear path to playing time.
As for Ingram, the 27-year-old lefty just made his major league debut last year. He made five appearances for the Angels, allowing five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He split the rest of the year between Double-A and Triple-A, tossing 61 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 30.2% strikeout rate, but a 13.3% walk rate. The major league work didn’t go well and the control issues aren’t new for him, but the minor league strikeouts are intriguing and he still has a couple of options remaining. The Angels will now have a week to trade him or try to pass him through waivers.
Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register first reported the Angels were signing Hicks.