Hinske Ball!

hinske2_250_063009.jpgThe Yankees made a solid move today in acquiring veteran left-handed hitter Eric Hinske from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hinske, a former Rookie of the Year (Toronto, 2002) was a solid reserve presence on back-to-back pennant winners with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and the Tampa Rays last year, and now has the chance to add a third postseason team to his resume.

Able to play all four corners, Hinske has some power and is willing to take more than the occasional walk, so he’ll fit right in with the Yankees. He’s a career .254/.337/.436 hitter, which is not a good figure for a corner starter but you’ll take it for a four-corner reserve. No fun against southpaws at .221/.298/.363, Hinske’s numbers against opposite side pitchers are .264/.347/.456.

The 31-year-old gives the Yankees the kind of valuable bat off the bench they haven’t had in some time. That he can play third base is key. If Alex Rodriguez is going to take days off, this is a better choice than Cody Ransom and about a thousand times better than Angel Berroa. Hinske is not a very good defensive third baseman, but his ability to hit the ball with some authority should ease the pain of those Rodriguez rest periods.

With Rodriguez swinging a hot bat, it seemed as if Rodriguez and Joe Girardi were going to make a point of forgetting their previous agreement about off days. This happened last week — after skipping one game in Florida, Rodriguez played in eight straight games and started seven straight. One wonders if Brian Cashman looked at the trouble that Mike Lowell has been having lately — he had 15 CCs of fluid removed from his hip yesterday, also received a shot of a lubricant, and today was placed on the DL — and wisely concluded that he’d better give Girardi a real alternative to Rodriguez at third base before they killed the presumptive team MVP.

This is not a criticism of Girardi. As I wrote here last week, Girardi has been given conflicting imperatives: win now, win every day, and then, somewhere down the line, don’t kill A-Rod. Given that the alternatives to Rodriguez were spectacularly weak, it’s hard to blame Girardi for prioritizing his first mission at the expense of his second. Breaking Rodriguez might not get him fired, but failing to reach the postseason will. You understand why his instinct, even if on a subliminal level, would be to gamble on the slugger triumphing over pain instead of hoping that Berroa, Ramiro Pena, or Ransom might deliver a big hit, or even a small hit. If the Yankees were 3.5 games ahead instead of behind, the decision to bench Rodriguez would be easier on Girardi, but they’re not.

Ironically, Girardi could end up back in the same head space, only for different reasons. Again, Hinske is not a great defensive third baseman, and it’s possible that he’ll be a bit rusty. He hasn’t played very much third base since 2004, making just 21 appearances at the hot corner (three this year). The Blue Jays bumped him off of third base for Corey Koskie and then Troy Glaus, while in his Boston and Rays stops he was behind Lowell and Evan Longoria, so he had to get into the lineup in other ways. A few well-timed misplays and Girardi’s sense of well-being might get shaken enough that he’ll be reluctant to entrust Hinske with too much hot corner time. Still, if he times the Hinske starts so they don’t coincide with Chien-Ming Wang’s games, the Yankees should be okay. It’s also not as if A-Rod has been excelling on the fielding job; the bad hip would seem to have limited Rodriguez’s range.

In exchange for making Girardi’s life more interesting, the Yankees only had to give up Eric Fryer, the Minor League outfielder acquired for Chase Wright, who does not project to be more than a role player in the Majors, if that, and righty pitcher Casey Erickson, a 23-year-old Sally League reliever.

In his career, Hinske has had the unusual honor of being both a surprise and a disappointment. A 17th-round draft pick of the Cubs in 1998, Hinske raked in the Minor Leagues, batting .285/.380/.511. His defense troubled the Cubs, though, and so even though they were in desperate need of a third baseman at the time, they palmed him off on the A’s for Miguel Cairo. This was a Hall of Fame-level dumb move, as Cairo didn’t last even a full season in Chicago, and in any case he was Miguel Cairo. The A’s held Hinske in the Minors for a season, then sent him to the Blue Jays for Billy Koch. This was a Hall of Fame-level smart move, as the A’s got 44 saves out of Koch in 2002 and then flipped him to the White Sox for Keith Foulke, who was even better. Meanwhile, Hinske played third for the Jays, hit 24 home runs, and won the Rookie of the Year award.

The Jays rushed right out and signed Hinske to a five-year contract, but Hinske was unable to follow up on his production. His walk rate slipped, and his power and batting average went along with it. His 2003 season was subpar and his 2004 was miserable. By 2005 he had been moved to first base, which was an odd decision for the Jays to make given just how bad he had been the year before. He bounced back to some degree in 2006, but by then he was already slipping into utility work.

Kudos to Brian Cashman on this one. Adding a player who slugged .465 a year ago really gives the Yankees the added A-Rod protection they’ve needed all season. The move comes a bit late, but it’s a good one. At this writing, the Yankees haven’t announced the roster move they’re making to get Hinske a spot in the dugout. It should be Brett Tomko who goes down, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees reducing their staff to 11 pitchers, so one assumes that Pena is headed for the sticks.

I’m normally pretty happy when publishers drop a free baseball book on me, but in the case of a new book on, well, something to do with Bucky Dent, they can leave me out. On Saturday, I received an unmarked envelope bearing only my address and a mint condition 1978 Topps Bucky Dent card. There was no return address.

I subsequently have learned that this was done on behalf of a forthcoming book. Now, look: as I said, it’s cool to get free baseball stuff in the mail, but sending mysterious envelopes with no return address to a fellow’s home is no way to go about it. This is, I am told, supposed to be viral marketing. That term is ironic, because that’s what it made me think of — viruses. It occurred to me the second after I unsealed the stupid thing that you’re not supposed to open unidentified mail, that not too long ago there was a freak sending anthrax all over the place, that every once in awhile some fringe reader expresses hostility that goes beyond a mere friendly disagreement about baseball, and that I have a wife and two young children in the house. I was not amused. I was worried, and I kicked myself for unsealing the envelope. The Bucky Dent card was no solace: sometimes bad things come in attractive packages, and anonymity would seem to be something of an antonym for publicity.

So hey, marketing geniuses: if your goal was to trouble me on a perfectly good Saturday and make me associate your book with anonymous anthrax mailings, congratulations. You did your job. Next time, be intelligent enough to include a return address and a flyer so it’s clear what the heck you’re trying to accomplish. I wish the author all the success in the world with his book, and this should not be construed as reflecting upon his efforts. In fact, I hope he does so we
ll that next time he’ll be associated with a better, smarter set of publicists.

Reflections on relief pitchers at Baseball Prospectus


  1. mattymatty2000@hotmail.com

    “[Cashman] wisely concluded that he’d better give Girardi a real alternative to Rodriguez at third base before they killed the presumptive team MVP. This is not a criticism of Girardi.”

    Well, it should be. It should also be a criticism of Cashman. If you are going to give a guy a ten year $275 million contract, you’d darn well better take care of him, and you’d darn well better hire a manager who understands that keeping your ten year $275 million 3rd baseman upright and mobile is his first priority. If the manager isn’t smart enough to take care of him, then the GM needs to get him on the same page and spell it out for him.

  2. oldschoolyank

    As good of a move it seems to be to pick up Hinske for all the reasons mentioned, I hope Pena can stay around. Who wouldn’t take Pena over Ransom? Pena can play 2B, SS, 3B. He is smooth in the field, runs well, can steal a base, hit/run, everything but hit for power–but, as a utility guy he is what you want. With the Captain missing more games than normal this year, it’s been comforting seeing Pena handle that position on a temp basis.

  3. snowman740@hotmail.com

    i have to wonder here, Hinski is another former former rookie of the year, so, what happened since? Forgot what it took to be a top player. So why do we need him? Pena wasn’t good enough? Swisher, I thought could play all out field positions and first and second. Pena can play third and short and second, with better range then the guys currently at those positions. By the way, did we mention Pena can hit??
    So why, Hinski?Another washed up never will be again. We know Swisher was a mistake but why not get younger, bring up Austin Jackson. Let him rip. get his MLB career started. All these wasted high priced free agent busts are killing us.. Come on…
    Now, protection or Arod. Why? What has he really done for us so far? 0 for the playoffs, and in most key situations, he’s not the one we want at bat. So, why protect him, he needs to help us more to get his help.
    Girardi, he’s been allowed to manage the Yankees far to long now.

  4. aerod500

    Some random thoughts. I have been saying for a long time that A-Rod needs protection…and I am not the only one. So finally, he may have some. I realize it is not easy to get protection for A-Rod. I mean, who is more of a threat to a pitcher than A-Rod? I assume A-Rod will still be pitched around, but maybe this new acquistion will help. As for Snowman’s comment…watch the games. Even as we speak, A-Rod has hit another HR and two RBI’s. Get with the program Smowman. Stop focusing on the playoff. Quite frankly, we won’t even make the playoffs at all if A-Rod is not in our line-up. One thing at a time. I also hope Hinske will be able to help with the outfield with the loss of Nady (who I like as well). Also, A-Rod has been playing stellar defense the last four games. Finally, I am glad Cashman has been aggressive. Good for him.

  5. paulp15

    While I am disappointed in Pena being sent down, I find this a good move. However, I see him getting more time in right field than indicated in your post Steve. While Swisher has done a fine job, I think Hinske would be a capable replacement a few times a week to give Swisher a spell he so obviously needs. He can also spell Damon in left once in a while too. So he should see some at bats at these positions and the occasional blow for Teixeira too.

  6. ctyank

    Why are we keeping Ransom. When is Giradi and Cashmen going to admit he is not good. His defense at 3rd is awful. Hinksi is bad too but atleast he can hit. Pena should be our backup infielder as his defense is better everywhere. He does not have the power of Ransom but atleast he manages to get hits in the clutch.
    Also, why is Giradi so stubborn and still playing Swisher everyday. He is not an everyday player. He and Hinski should be playing 2 days on and 2 days off each as this when history shows they are most productive. They are not everyday ballplayers but good ball players when playing a few days a week. WAKE UP

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