Yankees foot the bill as Aaron Hicks powers Orioles toward playoffs

Former Yankees' player, Aaron Hicks.
Amanda Paula
Tuesday September 5, 2023

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Aaron Hicks, the talented outfielder once hailed as a cornerstone of the New York Yankees, has found new life and a fresh perspective with the Baltimore Orioles. Released by the Yankees on May 26, Hicks was swiftly signed by the Orioles four days later. This move has proven to be a stroke of luck for the outfielder, as the fortunes of these two American League East rivals have diverged significantly since his departure.

As Hicks stepped into the Orioles’ lineup, he brought with him the experience of playing for a Yankees team that had consistently contended for playoff spots. Now, the tables have turned, with the Orioles leading the division and the Yankees languishing at the bottom. The Orioles, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, are poised to end their postseason drought, while the Yankees are struggling to avoid their first sub-.500 season in three decades.

Orioles’ playoff dream funded by the Yankees

Aron Hicks playing for Baltimore

One significant aspect of Hicks’ transition to Baltimore is the financial arrangement. The Yankees are responsible for paying the remainder of his seven-year, $70 million contract, which runs through 2025, with the Orioles only responsible for the prorated minimum salary. This financial windfall is undoubtedly a significant boost for the Orioles.

“I got a good break,” Hicks reflected, “I got a chance to play every day on a winning team. That’s definitely been a blessing. We have the ability to go extremely far in the playoffs.”

The 2023 MLB season has seen unexpected success stories from low-payroll teams like the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, and Arizona Diamondbacks. These teams have harnessed the potential of good, young, and speedy players to adapt to this season’s rule changes, challenging pre-season expectations.

Aaron Hicks got booed by Yankees fans as an Orioles player
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Last year, the Orioles were in the Wild Card race until the final weeks but fell short. This season, they are in control of their destiny, holding a narrow lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the East and a comfortable margin among the teams competing for the AL Wild Card spots. The Orioles and Rays appear to be on a path to the playoffs, barring a collapse.

“We feel very good about it,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde affirmed. “We were in a pennant race last year with pretty much the same group of guys. This is a fun time of year. We should be enjoying this right now.”

The Orioles have achieved their current success through a focus on minor-league development while maintaining the third-lowest payroll in the league at $71.1 million. In contrast, the Yankees, with a payroll of $278.4 million, are confronting questions about their future, including the job security of their general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone.

“We’re going to take a very deep dive into everything we’re doing,” said Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner, acknowledging the disappointment of the season. “This year was obviously unacceptable.”

Hicks’ move from the Yankees to the Orioles represents a stark contrast in experiences. Just a year ago, he was part of the Yankees’ roster that witnessed Aaron Judge’s remarkable pursuit of the AL home run record. Hicks expressed his admiration for Judge’s performance and his decision to bet on himself, which ultimately led to a lucrative nine-year, $360 million contract to remain in New York.

Aaron Hicks playing for NY Yankees

However, Orioles owner John Angelos noted that such deals are unattainable for smaller-market teams like the Orioles due to revenue disparities. The Yankees’ gross revenue of $698 million in 2022 dwarfs the Orioles’ $264 million.

Despite the financial gap, the Orioles are actively negotiating with the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore for a long-term lease and development plans around Camden Yards, a move that underscores their commitment to the team’s future.

The 2023 MLB season has been a tale of unpredictability, with injuries, roster changes, and surprising performances shaping the course of teams. Hicks, once a Yankees mainstay, has played a significant role in the resurgence of a youthful Orioles team. With a batting average of .257, six home runs, and 21 RBIs in 45 games for the Orioles, he has made a valuable contribution to their success.

“Hicks has been a huge help,” acknowledged manager Brandon Hyde. “He gave us a huge spark when we acquired him.”

Hicks harbors no ill will toward the Yankees for his departure, understanding the decision was driven by the team’s needs and his own desire for more playing time. Now, at 33, he looks forward to being a cornerstone of the Orioles’ future, with the Yankees footing a substantial portion of his salary.

For the Orioles, the future looks promising, with Hicks as a key part of their plans. As Hicks himself puts it, “This team has the ability to go very far in the playoffs and even win the World Series. With all the young guys and veterans, we seem to be very ready for the moment.” The 2023 MLB season has undoubtedly brought unexpected twists, and Aaron Hicks’ journey from the Yankees to the Orioles is one of the most intriguing stories in a season full of surprises.

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