It was just one year ago that Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters that Didi Gregorius needed Tommy John Surgery. Fast forward to Thursday's end-of-season news conference, he deliver the same news -- this time regarding Aaron Hicks.
Hicks needs the surgery to repair a torn UCL in his throwing elbow, and he'll need about 8-10 months to recover. That means the Yankees will need to prepare without Hicks for a good chunk of the first half of the new season.
So who should fill in his center field role in the meantime?
Brett Gardner would be the obvious choice -- if he was under contract. The 36-year-old is an unrestricted free agent, and after this announcement, it would make sense for Cashman to negotiate another short-term deal with him.
But Cashman won't be making any comments about free agency at the moment. The Yankees will begin their offseason planning next week to see what direction they want to go in regarding tweaks to their 25-man roster for next season.
"We'll see," Cashman said when asked if he'll look into free agency to add Hicks' replacement. "Our pro scouting meetings start Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of next week. Obviously you know our current outfield alignment that we have that doesn't include free agency, you know what the depth happens to be and obviously it's an area we're going to have to evaluate and discuss and factor in. But I don't have any answers to that specific question."
Looking at the current roster, Mike Tauchman would be the favorite to replace Hicks. He was one of those solid replacement Yankees this season, slashing .277/.361/.504 with 13 homers and 47 RBI over 87 games. He suffered an injury before the end of the season, but was actually 100 percent healthy during the ALCS and could have been an option.
Clint Frazier is also someone that comes to mind, especially with his power bat in the lineup every night. But the Yankees would need to be certain his shaky glove from this season can be trusted enough on a regular basis.
Both of these options, though, don't compare to the years of experience Gardner has manning center field for the Bombers. And he had arguably his best season in 2019 after hitting .251/.325/.503 with a career-high 28 homers and 74 RBI.
Cashman also gave him a stamp of approval as someone who could be that centerfielder for his club. He just couldn't unveil that is what he's thinking of pursuing.
"In terms of Brett Gardner, I don't think there's any question about what his capabilities are," Cashman said. "He had a tremendous season, both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively including playing center field. Obviously he's a free agent. I guess the main question is can he handle playing center field in 2020 both offensively and defensively? I don't think there's any question based on the performance he must forward this year and next year."
This past offseason, Cashman brought back the longest-tenured Yankee on a one-year, $7.5 million deal. He could likely replicate that deal with maybe a little more money to match his production from this season. It would be the smartest move, as Gardner could certainly find playing time if/when Hicks returns.
Also another name to consider: Cameron Maybin made more than a solid impression on the Yankees. He was a one-year rental for the Yanks as well, but was a great presence on and off the field while producing a .285 average with 11 homers (career high) and 32 RBI over 82 games.
But the path should lead back to Gardner, whose veteran presence in the clubhouse as well as his heart and hustle on the field have been valuable for this franchise since 2008.