The Yankees acquired a left-handed bench bat today, picking up 2002 Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske from the Pirates for minor leaguers Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer. The move comes on the same day that Xavier Nady is visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum to determine if he does indeed need a second Tommy John surgery.
Hinske is a decent addition to the bench, but before we get to how he fits on the team, lets take a quick look at what the Yankees gave up to get him.
Eric Fryer was the catcher/outfielder obtained from the Brewers for lefty Chase Wright. A tenth-round pick out of Ohio State in 2007, the righty-hitting Fryer, now 23, was hitting .250/.333/.344 with 11 steals in 16 attempts for High-A Tampa, spending most of his time in left field. This is just his third professional season
Pitcher Casey Erickson is also right-handed, 23, and a former tenth-round pick (the Yankees’ in 2006). He’s bounced between starting and relieving in his brief professional career. Though he made a strong showing in short-season Staten Island’s rotation last year (2.76 ERA, 4.6 K/BB), he has pitched primarily in relief for Charleston of the Sally League this year. A groundballer in his first full-season in a full-season league at age 23, he’s nothing special, particularly in the Yankees’ pitching-rich organization.
That’s not much to lose, a pair of 23-year-old A-ballers with very little projection, one a mid-round draft pick and another the bounty for a player who had been designated for assignment. That’s certainly a price worth paying for an immediate upgrade to the major league team’s 25-man roster.
So, is Hinske an upgrade? An if so, how much of one? That partially depends on who he replaces on the roster, which we likely won’t know until just before game time tonight. Here’s my guess.
With Jose Molina set to return from his quad strain, the Yankees are likely on the verge of sending both Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Peña down to Triple-A to get regular playing time. Cervelli and Peña are both 23, and neither has played a game at Triple-A. Cervelli may yet prove to be a viable starting catcher in the major leagues, but will need more development time to achieve that potential. Peña still seems more like a reserve infielder to me, but the Yankees will never find out if he could be more without letting him play every day at Triple-A.
As much of a revelation as Cervelli has been, he’s still only hitting a Molina-like .269/.290/.343 and has made just eight starts in the last month. Peña’s line is a near match at .267/.308/.349, and he’s started just five games in the last month. In Peña’s case, that line is simultaneously impressively and alarmingly close to his career minor league line of .258/.316/.319.
Replacing Peña, Hinske will be a clear upgrade at the plate. He arrives in New York hitting .255/.373/.368 on the season and is coming off a season in which he hit 20 home runs for the AL Champion Rays. Hinske’s worst major league season came for the Red Sox in 2007, and even that .204/.317/.398 would be an upgrade on Peña, as would Hinske’s career line of .254/.337/.436. The one catch is that the left-handed Hinske flat-out cannot hit left-handed pitching (.221/.298/.363 career), though even that line rivals what Peña has done at the plate in the major leagues. The flip side of that split, of course, is that Hinske’s career line against right-handed pitching is a solidly league-average .264/.347/.456.
The acquisition of Hinske is above all else a smart solution to the Yankees’ need to have an extra infielder on hand to back up Alex Rodriguez. Hinske isn’t a great defender, but he can play the four corners (third, first, left and right) well enough to spot start against right-handed pitching. Though he’s played just 21 games at third base over the last four seasons, only 11 of which have been starts, he hasn’t made an error in any of them.
Playing for his fourth AL East team, Hinske is familiar with the pitchers in the league and the division and unlikely to suffer from a return to the harder league, where he spent his entire career prior to this year. The only real complaint I have about the move is that Hinske is left-handed. Yes, pairing the lefty-swinging Hinske with the right-handed Cody Ransom will allow Joe Girardi to play matchups at third base on Rodriguez’s weekly days off, but the only other exclusively right-handed hitters on the team are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, leaving Hinske little value as a pinch-hitter when Ransom’s not in the game. A right-handed bench bat could be used to hit for Brett Gardner or Hideki Matsui against a tough lefty. I suppose Hinske could also hit for Molina after his return, but since such a move would require inserting Jorge Posada for defense, there’s no reason not to simply use Posada’s superior bat in those circumstances.
Nonetheless, Hinske is a valuable and versitile reserve. He’s also been on the last two American League pennant winners. Here’s hoping he extends that streak with the Yankees.