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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have a decision to make on CC Sabathia and Aaron Hicks for the ALCS

Aaron Hicks of the Yankees follows through on

Aaron Hicks of the Yankees follows through on a first-inning single against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 3. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aaron Boone sounded genuinely thrilled Wednesday about the possibility of CC Sabathia returning for the ALCS, opponent TBD.

As for Aaron Hicks? Well, it’s complicated.

The Yankees didn’t play like a team that needed reinforcements during its dismantling of the Twins in the Division Series. They outclassed the AL Central champs in every area, and we couldn’t identify any glaring weaknesses, aside from maybe Giancarlo Stanton showing some rust and Adam Ottavino’s allergy to the strike zone.

The temptation to upgrade, however, with the likes of Sabathia and Hicks obviously is strong if those two are healthy enough to contribute -- but that’s a big if. Boone said he was impressed by Sabathia’s audition Wednesday during the Yankees’ closed workout in the Bronx, and after the extended rest -- along with a cortisone shot for his shoulder -- it’s not surprising that CC was able to be effective again.

Repeating those short spurts is the issue, and Boone said he’d want Sabathia for assignments ranging from one lefty to maybe four or five outs. It’s just a matter of whether Sabathia’s knee and shoulder can survive that role, because Tyler Lyons isn’t going to be an obstacle to him being added to the roster.

“CC did throw and frankly looked really good,” Boone said during Wednesday’s conference call. “He was sharp, he was able to really finish his pitches. I think he’s feeling considerably better than he was this time last week certainly. And I would say he is now an option for us as well and somebody that we’re considering and we’ll kind of talk through. We’ll see how he bounces back [Thursday] from his session, but he’s very much in the conversation now.”

Going with Sabathia is a low-risk move because he can always be replaced on the roster if any health problems surface during the series. He brings experience to the ALCS stage, and if the Rays end up advancing, CC could make things even more entertaining. It’s not hard to envision Boone adding Sabathia, despite a brief evaluation period.

For Hicks, however, it’s a more difficult call because he hasn’t played in a major-league game since Aug. 3 due to a strained elbow. Hicks told an Associated Press reporter at the team’s Tampa facility that he’s ready to go, but after he arrived Wednesday in the Bronx, Boone pumped the brakes a little on his centerfielder’s comments.

“He’s good physically,” Boone said. “Obviously he hasn’t had the kind of reps or games that you’d like, but he has certainly put himself in the position to be considered.”

Remember when the Yankees were worried about Stanton getting up to speed in time for October? He returned from a sprained knee to collect only 34 plate appearances -- after missing nearly three months -- and hit .286 (8-for-28) with two doubles and two homers while getting five starts in leftfield.

Boone described Stanton’s road to the playoffs as less than perfect, in terms of game reps, and you could see how the time away may have affected him to some degree during the Division Series. Stanton doesn’t look 100 percent in leftfield, and went 1-for-6 with a bloop single, four walks and a sacrifice fly.

It was just a few weeks ago that Hicks had to be shut down over concerns that he may need Tommy John surgery for the ailing elbow. That wasn’t prescribed, but Hicks never made it back, and the best he could do Wednesday for Boone was hit indoors during a simulated game (due to the rain) at the Stadium.

That’s not a great test, which is why the Yankees may have to stick with Cameron Maybin as the fourth outfielder for the ALCS. Hicks would be a tremendous weapon to add as a switch-hitting power threat with Gold Glove defense, but after being on the shelf for so long, he’s not likely to supplant any of the current outfielders -- other than as a late-inning defensive replacement for Stanton. Boone probably would prefer not introducing that kind of disruption.

“Absolutely there’s trepidation and that’s part of the decision,” Boone said. “But you could also see him filling a number of roles. When he’s healthy, he’s a really good player and a really important player for us, and an impact player. So I could see anything from being in the lineup for any given game, I could see him being on our bench and I could also see us not ready to make that move yet because of not being fully worked back up.”

After six months of almost constant flux, the Yankees broke character and used the same lineup for all three games of the Division Series. So that could make it even tougher for Hicks to convince Boone to make any significant changes within this short window before the ALCS.  

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