NEW YORK -- The Yankees acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in exchange for catcher John Ryan Murphy, a move that could lead to a trade of one of the most senior members of New York's roster.
Hicks, 26, could serve as a fourth outfielder, the job held this past season by Chris Young, now a free agent. But it also could be the precursor to a bigger move; the Yankees might be shopping Brett Gardner, according to reports out of the GMs meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, this week.
Gardner, an eight-year veteran who is second only to Alex Rodriguez in length of service with the Yankees, was their starting left-fielder and one of two position-player All-Stars in 2015.
"At the very least he provides us with what we were getting from Chris Young for the past two years, and at the very most, he provides us with a lot of flexibility depending on how the winter transpires,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of Hicks. "We believe he's an everyday player.''
Hicks, a switch-hitter, has played in parts of three big league seasons for the Twins, who made him the No. 14 overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft.
His best season came in 2015, when he hit .256 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in 97 games, 88 of them in center field. Hicks also has played both corner positions, and with Jacoby Ellsbury signed to play center for the next five seasons, Hicks is likely to move to right (where he's played 21 games) or left (10).
Hicks is known for having a powerful arm; he was listed by FanGraphs.com as one of 15 big league outfielders with a throw clocked at more than 100 mph in 2015. And like Young, he is particularly tough against left-handers, hitting .307 with an .807 OPS against them in 2015.
"He's a player who's been perceived at a high level for a long time, and we believe he figured a lot of things out here in the past year," Cashman said.
The GM cited Hicks' relationship with Torii Hunter, the former Twins outfielder, as key to his development this season, similar to how some Yankees veterans, like Rodriguez, took shortstop Didi Gregorius under their wings in 2015 to ease his transition to New York.
"The same way our guys helped Didi unlock some things, I think that's what Torii did for Hicks over there,'' Cashman said.
According to Cashman, the Yankees and Twins had discussed a possible a deal for Hicks about three weeks ago, but Minnesota GM Terry Ryan rejected it before reversing course Tuesday.
Cashman said it was difficult to part with Murphy, who proved a capable backup to Brian McCann, hitting .277 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 67 games.
"The Twins got themselves an everyday catcher,'' he said.
But Cashman repeated that catcher was an area of strength for the Yankees and that two candidates, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, could compete for the backup job for 2016. On ability, Sanchez appears to have the inside track for the job, though Romine is out of minor league options.
Sanchez, 22, hit .295 with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 35 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015. He is currently batting .304 in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think Gary Sanchez can play in the big leagues this year,'' Cashman said.
Cashman hinted that the Yankees might not be done dealing. The trade was the second of the day for the team, which earlier had sent reserve infielder Jose Pirela to the San Diego Padres for rookie relief pitcher Ronald Herrera.
"I don't rule anything out, both on the trade and free-agent front,'' Cashman said. "But I can tell you that our roster makes more sense now than it did before we announced this deal.''