TAMPA, Fla. — After extending Luis Severino’s contract early in spring training, general manager Brian Cashman said the Yankees were “open for business” in terms of locking up some of their other young players.
The Yankees added one more Monday morning as centerfielder Aaron Hicks agreed to a seven-year, $70 million extension (with a club option for 2026) that begins this season.
“I felt like it was a fair deal for both sides,” said Hicks, who could have become a free agent after this season. “This is an organization I want to stay with. I feel like the team here is a team that I want to be with. I want to be on this team. I feel like it has a great future.”
A future built around a core that, as much as he can, Cashman is trying to secure long-term.
“We’ve been very vocal that we’ve engaged a lot of players,” he said Monday afternoon.
He would not name anyone, but Dellin Betances, who will be a free agent after this season, said last week that his agent has held discussions with Cashman on an extension. There also is chatter about something similar happening with Didi Gregorius, who will be a free agent after the season.
Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are arbitration-eligible next offseason, and if possible, the Yankees would love to lock them in long-term.
The Yankees bought out Severino’s remaining arbitration-eligible seasons and his first year of free agency by signing him to a four-year, $40 million deal just after pitchers and catchers began working out Feb. 14.
“Sevy and Hicks’ extensions are examples of those efforts,” Cashman said. “It doesn’t guarantee that we’ll have conclusions with anybody else . . . but we’re excited. Excited about a player who came here that wasn’t a finished product with a lot of upside. This is an example of a player who was coachable, was open-minded, was willing to put the work in and grow and adjust.”
Hicks, a 29-year-old switch hitter, was acquired from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy in November 2015.
Hicks struggled in his first Yankees season, hitting .217 with a .281 on-base percentage in 123 games. He steadily has improved, however, and is coming off a season in which he posted personal bests in hits (119), extra-base hits (48), homers (27), RBIs (79), runs (90) and walks (90).
Hicks, who arrived with the reputation as an underachiever — he was drafted in the first round (14th overall) in 2008 — also has turned himself into a good and at times spectacular defender with a strong arm.
“That’s the story line in this that I think is pretty cool,” Cashman said. “There were a lot of people questioning if he’d ever cross into being the player that his draft card said he was capable of being. And he was hungry to prove otherwise and we were hungry to work with him on it. But the story’s yet to be written. We placed a bet, and I talked to Aaron. I said, ‘I’m betting on you,’ and he’s betting on himself at the same time.”
Before Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener, Aaron Boone called Hicks “maybe the most underrated player in the game,” citing his defense, power from both sides of the plate and ability to “control the strike zone.”
In their release Monday, the Yankees highlighted Hicks’ being fifth in the majors with a 15.5 percent walk rate and seventh in MLB with a 20.9 percent chase rate (on balls out of the strike zone).
“There’s a player with plate discipline, power, a cannon of an arm, so he’s capable of impacting the game in a positive way on both sides of the ball,” Cashman said. “I feel like we’re fortunate to have him.”