Who is he and where does he come from?
He’s Jordan Hicks, a guy who probably made you swear at your TV upon seeing how hard he throws least once in the last several years. The 27-year-old righty was most recently was with a division rival in the Toronto Blue Jays, despite starting 2023 with the St. Louis Cardinals, the organization he had been with since being drafted in 2015.
Is he any good?
He definitely can be, but as with most pitchers still awaiting deals in January, there is a catch. Let’s start with the positives: as I said before, man, can he throw some heat! His average fastball has a velocity of over 100 miles per hour, and in 2018, before he turned 22-years-old, he threw a strike that topped out at 105.1, which is second to Aroldis Chapman for the fastest strike in the Statcast era. His speed has aided his ability to get batters out: his career ERA in five seasons is 3.85, with an FIP of 3.67. And, in case you thought that high velocity means high exit velocity: you may be right, but he simply does not give up home runs enough to warrant such worry; in 241 1⁄3 career innings, he’s been taken yard just 13 times.
As I mentioned, it’s not all roses, though: Hicks struggles with control and can be wild, giving up 4.24 walks per 9 innings through his career (which ranks him in the lowest fifteenth percentile according to Baseball Savant). To his credit, he lowered that stat from 13.3% in 2022 to last season’s 11.2%. Along with that was an improvement on his strikeout percentage from 22.7% to 28.2%, which is a return to his rookie numbers.
Now, for some more valid – and prominent – worries: Hicks needed Tommy John surgery in 2019 after tearing his UCL, and subsequently dealt with a flexor problem in 2020 that reared its head a bit in 2021, costing him a nominal amount of time. At only 27, this could be alarming, but he put in 65 1⁄3 innings across 65 appearances for St. Louis and Toronto in 2023, which is the most since his rookie season. Plus, we got to see a well-adjusted reliever working on improving his stuff without injury troubles.
TL;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.
65.2 IP, 81 K, 32 BB, 12 SV, 3 BS, .229 BA against, 3.29 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 5 HRs allowed
Why would he be a good fit for the Red Sox?
Well, he wouldn’t just yet, but it’s possible that, after landing Lucas Giolito for the rotation and subsequently dealing projected 2024 Opening Day starter Chris Sale to Atlanta, the Red Sox may not be done wheeling and dealing yet. This is further compounded by reports that the Red Sox have told a free agent (if I were a betting man, it’s gotta be Jordan Montgomery, right?) that they need to shed further payroll before they pursue him.
We can talk about how ludicrous it is to tell a free agent that, or we can talk about how this report came hours before another report that Fenway Sports Group-owned Liverpool were rumored to be aggressively pursuing French star Kylian Mbappe (for non-soccer watchers like myself, I’ve been told that this would be a Yamamoto-esque deal.) I’m just here to talk about what this might mean.
Currently, including the newcoming rotation arm Giolito, Kenley Jansen is the fifth-richest contract on the team, set to make $16 million. We know Craig Breslow is not afraid to make a splash and be bold. We also know – because I wrote about it! – that despite still being productive, Kenley Jansen backtracked a few steps from his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers in 2023. And oh, by the way, Jansen is 36. That seems like a perfect formula for a guy on his way out to me. So, where do the Red Sox go from there? Why not a guy who hits 100+ when most guys in the Red Sox bullpen struggle to hit the high 90’s?
Why would he not be a good fit for the Red Sox?
The aforementioned injury history is ominous, and would fit into anyone’s jests about Breslow’s predecessor’s usual roster organization — Tommy John by 25, he’ll fit in great! The walks aren’t a great sign; and with that velocity, he should be striking more batters out. The last point is, CURRENTLY, the Red Sox have a pretty full bullpen... as I’ve said in the last ten articles I’ve written, as well as what others on this site have said, we need starting pitching!
What would he cost?
Tally this one into the “hmm, maybe he will fit” category. Though he made just $1,837,500 through arbitration last season, he will obviously make quite a bit more than that in 2024. But, a fair projection given his history would be, say, 4 years for $32 million or so... which means taht, if the Yankees are interested in Hicks’ services as is rumored, the Red Sox might need to get in the $40 million range if they really want him, for a figure approaching $10 million annual average. Whether or not that sheds enough salary after hypothetically dealing Kenley depends on the what Breslow can get for Kenley and how much Boston has to retain. It’s imperative I say this though: I don’t see the Red Sox going for this at this number unless Kenley Jansen is not our closer in 2024.
Show me a cool highlight.
Here’s that aforementioned velocity in 2018, even if it comes with a little lack of control, as you can also see from the 0-1 pitch as well as the final pitch in this clip. Look how baffled Odubel Herrera is. How can you even attempt to hit that? Let alone multiple times...
Smash or Pass?
Ehhhh, with the current roster construction, I’d probably pass. But I can be quickly talked into smashing. We probably won’t have to worry if I’d smash or pass in a few days, though, because the Red Sox, who have other more glaring needs, may be priced out of Hicks quickly.
I will say it again: the only way I see a deal getting done is if:
1.) the rumors are true and the Sox are shedding more payroll despite being more than $30 million under the first threshold of the luxury tax;
2.) Kenley Jansen is dealt as a victim (though, depending on where he goes, perhaps a benificiary?) of this circumstance; and
3.) (or more likely 2.5) Either Houck or Whitlock ends up in the rotation instead of in the bullpen. After a tumultuous two seasons, albeit the first much worse than the second, I don’t see the Red Sox bullpen dealing with a third year of injury-prone arms that could cause worse performance as a result. Given how bold Craig Breslow has been and from Andrew Bailey’s hiring being seen as an immediate improvement over Dave Bush, I can’t see the team trotting so much Triple-A talent out again.
To land Hicks, especially given the injury concerns, the money obviously has to be right, and the circumstance has to be right, or else I’d pass. But, if I see the Jansen trade notification pop up, I would smash – not at 105 miles per hour, of course, but I could try.