The Angels signed veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks to a one-year, $740,000 deal on Monday, giving them some insurance in case of injury to a starter and pushing erstwhile top prospect Jo Adell even further to the margins entering a make-or-break season.
Adell, a 2017 first-round pick who signed for $4.37 million, has crushed triple-A pitching for three years but struggled in parts of four seasons in the big leagues, batting .214 with a .625 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 18 homers, 66 RBIs and 219 strikeouts in 580 at-bats over 178 games. His defense in right field has also been spotty.
The Angels are expected to open spring training with a starting outfield of Mike Trout in center, Taylor Ward in left and Mickey Moniak in right, with the switch-hitting Hicks, 34, and the right-handed-hitting Adell, 24, battling for a reserve spot.
General manager Perry Minasian said during a video call Monday that “as currently constructed, we still have room for everyone,” but it’s rare for teams to carry five outfielders on their 26-man roster, so new manager Ron Washington might have to choose between Hicks and Adell for a bench spot.
Complicating matters, Adell is out of options, meaning he would have to be designated for assignment and pass through waivers — where he can be claimed by another team — before being sent to the minors. A DFA would also increase the chances of Adell, who sat out more than two months of 2023 because of an oblique strain, being traded.
“He’s somebody that we think has a ton of talent and can definitely help us,” Minasian said of Adell. “Jo is a young player who has been through a lot of ups and downs … but it takes time for young players to establish themselves.
“Experience matters. I think a lot of our players have gone through a lot of different coaches and a lot of different managers, so I believe the stability of our new staff is going to really help some of those guys excel.”
Hicks, a former Long Beach Wilson High standout and first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2008, is a low-risk addition for the Angels, who lost Trout for half of last season because of a left wrist injury and Ward to a season-ending injury in late July, when he suffered facial fractures after being hit by a pitch.
The bulk of the two years and $19.25 million remaining on the seven-year, $70-million contract Hicks signed with the New York Yankees before 2019 is being paid by the Yankees, who released Hicks last May 26.
Hicks hit .118 with a .524 OPS, one homer and five homers in 28 games for New York last season. He signed with Baltimore four days after his release and hit .275 with an .806 OPS, seven homers and 31 RBIs in 65 games for the American League East champion Orioles.
The 11-year veteran had his best season in 2018 for the Yankees, batting .248 with an .833 OPS, 27 homers, 79 RBIs, 90 walks and 111 strikeouts in 137 games, but he was limited by back, elbow, shin and wrist injuries to 59 games in 2019 and 32 games in 2021.
“He’s a switch-hitter who can play all three outfield spots, and he played really well for Baltimore after the move from New York,” Minasian said of Hicks. “We saw a rejuvenated guy who can still play and be productive. With the injuries we’ve had in the outfield, we wanted to make sure we have quality depth there.”
Barring the signing of a primary designated hitter, the Angels will rotate Trout, who has played only 237 games in the last three seasons, and perennially hobbled third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has played 148 games in three years, through the DH spot, opening up more starts for a reserve outfielder such as Hicks.
“He’s someone who can help us in a lot of different ways, whether that’s playing or coming off the bench,” Minasian said of Hicks. “It gives Wash options. It’s a good veteran presence … and a quality at-bat. He knows the strike zone. He doesn’t give away at-bats, in general. It’s a grinding type of at-bat we felt could enhance our group.”