Aaron Hicks' season is over and now the Yankee center fielder is possibly looking at offseason surgery. After seeking a second opinion on what the team announced as a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow, the Yankees said they cannot be sure that his ulnar collateral ligament has not been damaged.
"My understanding that it's very tough to determine," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before Wednesday's game against the Tigers at Comerica Park, adding that the pictures they have of Hicks' elbow from multiple MRIs do not show a clear tear. "Is it compromised? Possibly. Hopefully it declares itself here in the next couple of weeks."
Initially, the Yankees said that the UCL was fine. A compromised UCL can be treated with a platelet-rich plasma injection and rehabbed. Masahiro Tanaka has successfully rehabbed and pitched with a compromised UCL. Or it could require Tommy John surgery, like it did with Didi Gregorius last October.
"Surgery would certainly be on the table. I wouldn't even call it likely. It feels very much up in the air how he responds," Boone said. "When you look at how they read the MRIs it's not clear that something needs to be done. The reality is that he hasn't responded yet to the first shutdown ... Hopefully we'll all make the right choice in time here. It's going to be a least a few more weeks of shutdown."
And that means the Yankees cannot plan on Hicks being back this season, no matter how long that season goes.
"Yeah, yeah. We'll have to. We've got a lot of good players," Boone said.
Suddenly, though, they have a dearth of outfielders who they can count on when they begin the postseason.
Giancarlo Stanton is working his way back from a sprained right knee and it's possible he could be back next week, when they open their final homestand of the regular season.
The knee is just the latest in the litany of injuries that Stanton, who is in the eighth year of a 13-year, $325 million deal, has dealt with this season. The outfielder, who played 152 games last season, has played just nine games this season because of a strained left biceps, strained left shoulder and strained left calf before the knee injury.
In 38 plate appearances this year, Stanton has nine hits, including a double and a home run, seven RBI and 13 strikeouts.
Now, the Yankees do not have the luxury of keeping him off the knee and just using him as a DH. He is getting at-bats, running the bases and doing rehab work in simulated games at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa.
"That's what we're getting him ready for. That's what he's getting ready for," Boone said. "That's what we're optimistic, he'll be able to do."
That said, the Yankees would never be able to have Stanton play center field. That means more starts for 36-year old veteran outfielder Brett Gardner. The veteran outfielder was re-signed last winter to be the fourth outfielder, insurance against injuries.
The team hoped a reduced schedule would help keep him fresh. They haven't had that luxury this year, but he's held up remarkably well.
Gardner has played in 125 of the Yankees' 146 games so far this season. Tuesday night, the 36-year-old Gardner hit two home runs, giving him his career-high 23.
"I'm always working toward trying to get better or be more consistent at the plate, drive the ball more and take my A swing more consistently," Gardner said. "I'm always working to get better. Sometimes you get good pitches and hit them hard. Other times you miss them. Just keep swinging."
The Yankees do have Cameron Maybin, who is seemingly recovered from the wrist issue that had kept him out of the lineup for over a week. Maybin was back in the starting lineup Wednesday night for the second time since Aug. 28. He could back up at center field as well.
But the concern for Hicks goes beyond just this October.
The Yankees signed Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million extension this spring. The switch hitter was considered a critical piece in their heavily right-handed hitting lineup. It was something of a risk, however, considering he has a long history of injuries. Hicks has missed time with an intercostal injury plus injuries to both hamstrings and an oblique in his time with the Yankees. Last season was the first that Hicks played in more than 125 games.