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O’s Sign Veteran Aaron Hicks as Cedric Mullins Heads to IL

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Some bad news in Birdland today, as we learned that the groin strain Cedric Mullins suffered in Memorial Day’s loss to the Cleveland Guardians will send him to the 10-day injured list. Mike Elias acted fast, signing the recently released Aaron Hicks, formerly of the New York Yankees, to the major league roster.

The Hicks signing is ruffling some feathers among O’s fans, and understandably so. The 33-year-old hasn’t been an above-average major league hitter since the shortened season of 2020 (124 wRC+), and hit just .216/.330/.313 (90 wRC+) in 130 games in New York last year. He really bottomed out here in 28 games to start 2023, at .188/.263/.261 (49 wRC+), before the Yankees finally cut bait earlier this week, still owing him over $20 million.

However, there is some good to be found if you look deeper. Per MLB Trade Rumors:

For all his struggles, Hicks has generally graded as an average or better left fielder in recent years. His once-excellent defense in center field has faded, but he posted a hefty 8 Defensive Runs Saved through just 413 innings in left field as recently as 2022. The switch-hitter hasn’t had success regardless of opponent in 2022-23, but Hicks had a decent showing against lefties in 2021 and has a career .247/.327/.415 batting line as a right-handed hitter facing lefties. He’s also walked in 12.5% of his 3352 Major League plate appearances, including an above-average 9.2% walk rate even in the midst of this year’s freefall at the dish.

As long as you don’t expect Hicks to be a one-to-one replacement for Mullins, there is potential here. Maybe getting out of the pressure cooker of New York rejuvenates him. Best case, he goes on a two week heater a la 2015 Chris Parmalee, pelting the Camden Yards flag court a few times. We just got done talking about how Mike Elias’ offseason additions of Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier, both poo-pooed at the time, have been pleasant surprises. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt here?

There was never a good time for Mullins, who was scorching throughout May, looking to challenge his “career year” numbers from 2021, to get injured. But he did so at a time when the most obvious candidate to come up in his stead, Colton Cowser, is also injured down in AAA Norfolk. Cowser last played on May 16, and has been out with a quad injury ever since. Hopefully he gets back into action here soon, and shows that the injury is 100%. Before being sidelined, he was hitting a ridiculous .331/.469/.554 (1.023 OPS) in 139 AB, and the calls from O’s faithful to call him up were reaching a fever pitch.

Maybe Hicks looks just as washed up for the next week or two as he has in New York lately, and maybe during that time Cowser comes back and keeps banging down the door. That wouldn’t be the worst problem to have. According to Elias this afternoon, he “hopes” Mullins will be out for weeks, not months. We will also hope that, while also steeling ourselves for a longer timeline.

The Orioles have been mostly fortunate when it comes to injuries going back through the 2022 season. Now a huge one is biting them. It will be interesting to see how this young team responds to the adversity. A veteran like Hicks suddenly being available at just the right time could end up being serendipitous.

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