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As One Center Fielder’s Yankees Tenure Begins, Another’s Seems Destined to End

Harrison Bader is expected to make his Yankees debut on Tuesday. That could mean the beginning of the end for Aaron Hicks.

The Yankees will finally see their return from the Jordan Montgomery deal in action Tuesday, as Harrison Bader is expected to make his debut for the team.

While Montgomery has been mostly excellent with the Cardinals since the trade deadline buzzer-beater that sent him to St. Louis, Bader has been recovering from plantar fasciitis and bone marrow edema (fluid buildup) in his right foot. Bader appeared in 72 games for the Cardinals this season before the trade, but he’s yet to play in anything more than minor league contests as a Yankee.

That will change Tuesday now that Bader’s six-game rehab assignment with Double-A Somerset is over. The Yankees’ plan, or hope, is that the defensively stellar Bader will take over in center field down the stretch and in the playoffs, as well as next season. The 28-year-old is signed through 2023.

Should that come to fruition, Aaron Hicks would almost certainly become the odd man out.

Hicks has struggled across the board this season, and his proneness to injuries made him hard to rely on in the past. The 32-year-old hit a home run on Sunday, but it was his first since July 9, and he hasn’t played consistently of late.

With Bader set to debut, Hicks knows his already limited chances will decrease.

“I expect [Bader] to come in and start playing every day, as he should,” Hicks recently told the New York Post’s Dan Martin. “He got traded here to help us win. We need him to be himself to win a World Series. When I get opportunities, I’ll try to make the most of them, but it’s extremely hard when I play a game and then I’m off for three days and now there’s another outfielder out there.”

While Hicks has a general point regarding playing time, he didn’t exactly produce when he was a lineup regular. Bader’s arrival means the Yankees no longer need to test their own patience. With a .216/.327/.308 slash line, seven homers, a 88 wRC+ and declining defense, Hicks has put himself in this position.

The writing has been on the wall since last November, when Brian Cashman said the Yankees could explore new center field options after Hicks played in just 32 games in 2021. The team never did that, instead opting for a whole lot more of Aaron Judge in center this year.

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Hicks had a chance to lock up an outfield spot – if not center – but his 2022 woes only reinforced what Cashman was thinking last offseason. And so, Bader was acquired in a trade that still has some folks scratching their heads given his lack of availability thus far.

While Bader’s ability to make an impact coming off a significant injury is no guarantee, Hicks’ future now comes into question. He still has three years and $30 million left on his contract – as if his stats and injury history weren’t reason enough for trade suitors to steer clear.

But Hicks plans on bulking up this offseason in an effort to regain some pop, per the Post, and he noticed how former flailing teammate Joey Gallo looked more comfortable following a midseason trade to the Dodgers.

Hicks has played so similarly that fans began chanting Gallo’s name at him during New York’s last homestand; he was benched after misplaying two fly balls.

Now there’s a strong chance that, like Gallo, Hicks will misplay himself out of the Bronx.

“As of right now, I feel the more I play, the better I’m gonna play,” Hicks said. “That’s not what’s going on right now. Things are tough in New York. I don’t have an answer. If they feel this isn’t the right fit for me, that’s their call. If I do go to another team, I know I can help them win.”

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Follow Gary Phillips on Twitter (@GaryHPhillips). Be sure to bookmark Inside The Pinstripes and check back daily for news, analysis and more.