MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Hicks trade sets up Yankees to do more

Hicks trade sets up Yankees to do more

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called it "an independent, straight up, good old-fashioned baseball trade -- a lot of talent for a lot of talent."

Sure, that's one way to look at the deal in which the Yankees sent 24-year-old catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for 26-year-old outfielder Aaron Hicks on Wednesday afternoon.

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Only thing is, it looks like it could end up being more than that, at least for the Yanks. This trade clearly positions them to, say, trade for a starting pitcher. Cashman wasn't biting on that part of the deal.

"We'll wait and see how the rest of the winter transpires," Cashman said.

Cashman made other similar references during a session with reporters discussing the deal. However, he also emphasized that this is a good deal for the Yankees even if it doesn't lead to anything else.

Indeed, it's an easy trade to sell for both clubs. This is what smart clubs do when they deal from positions of strength.

GM Cashman on trade with Twins

Hicks is a switch-hitting outfielder who took a step forward in 2015, improving his OPS from .615 to .721. He seemed to benefit from the presence of veteran Torii Hunter, in terms of figuring things out.

Where does Hicks fit with the Yankees? In Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the Yanks have a stable outfield situation. At the moment, Hicks would replace Chris Young as the fourth outfielder. Only he's ultimately going to be more than that, whether in 2016 or beyond.

Hicks batted .307 against left-handed pitching, .235 against right-handers. But he's seen as an impact player in any outfield position, and as someone who eventually will be an everyday player.

Does this deal mean that Cashman will now consider trading Gardner to get a starting pitcher?

Or how about this? Would Cashman include both Gardner and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller for an elite starting pitcher?

For instance, Stephen Strasburg.

That trade would fill two important needs for the Nationals: a left-handed hitter and a dominant closer. For the Yankees, it would deliver one of baseball's potentially dominant starters to the Bronx.

There's a downside: Strasburg is a year removed from free agency, and agent Scott Boras prefers his clients test the open market. But the Yanks seldom lose their free agents over money. 

Yankees acquire Herrera, Hicks

Cashman proposed Wednesday's trade to Twins general manager Terry Ryan a couple of weeks ago. At the time, Ryan was still digesting Hunter's retirement and was unwilling to part with a young outfielder.

Since then, Minnesota decided to shift third baseman Miguel Sano to the outfield. By Tuesday night, the two men had a deal.

Win-win.

Murphy hit .277 in 67 games for the Yankees last season. But he's behind veteran Brian McCann on the depth chart.

"The Twins got an everyday catcher," Cashman said. "He was a backup for us only because of Brian McCann. But [Murphy is] an everyday catcher."

The Yanks also have another young catcher, Gary Sanchez, hitting .306 in the Arizona Fall League, so the position is deep. Sanchez is the club's No. 5 prospect and was recently named the AFL's Fall Stars Game MVP.

"Obviously, fits an area of need for us, because of what [Hicks] does against left-handed pitching, especially," Cashman said. "Plus defender. Big arm. Gives us a lot of flexibility. A young, exciting talent. Perceived at a high level for a number of years. Hit the big leagues at a younger-than-typical age for his abilities. We believe he has figured a lot of things out in the last year."

This is the continuing evolution of the Yankees toward youth and a more sustainable Minor League system. Last offseason, Cashman acquired 25-year-old shortstop Didi Gregorius from the D-backs to be Derek Jeter's replacement.

Gregorius ultimately thrived both offensively and defensively, in part, because of the environment into which he was thrust in the Yanks' clubhouse. Cashman sees that same environment as helping Hicks continue his growth.

"Our roster makes more sense this moment than it did before," Cashman said.

There could also be something else coming. That's the interesting part.

"It provides flexibility to do some things as we move forward, but that's not why I did the trade," Cashman said. "There could be a lot of changes, a lot of shakeups, a lot of things that could transpire. I don't rule anything out, both on the trade and free-agent front."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.