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Observations From Cooperstown: The Hinske File, Rivera, and Roster Reverb

Posted By Bruce Markusen On July 4, 2009 @ 8:55 am In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen | Comments Disabled

Why is it that whenever I hear the name Eric Hinske, I automatically think of the “Penske File” from Seinfeld? Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of the show, or maybe I’ve just watched too much baseball, I’m not sure which. More to the point, I like the acquisition of the ex-Ray, Red Sock, and Blue Jay, mostly because he brings some much-needed power to a punchless bench. His left-handed swing should be well served at the new Stadium.

I also applaud the pickup of Hinske, acquired from the Pirates for two low level minor leaguers, because of his ability to spell Alex Rodriguez from time to time at third base. Hinske has recent experience at the position, having played three games there for the Pirates this year and eight games for the Rays in 2008. He doesn’t have much range, but his hands are good, as is a resume that includes several American League East pennant races and two World Series appearances.

Last year, Hinske platooned with the pennant-winning Rays, splitting his time between DH, right field, and left field. He’ll certainly play less often with the Yankees, backing up at the infield and outfield corners and coming off the bench to pinch-hit for the likes of Brett Gardner and Jose Molina (whenever he returns). That should bode well for the Yankees because Hinske is one of those players by which you can measure your ballclub. If he’s playing everyday for you, your team is probably not a pennant contender. But if he’s playing in a platoon role, or coming off the bench, as he will be doing for the Yankees, then that’s a sign that you have a good club…

Years ago, we learned that the Yankees nearly traded Mariano Rivera to the Mariners for good-field, no-hit shortstop Felix “The Cat” Fermin. That deal would have been a disaster on several fronts, including the possibility of delaying Derek Jeter’s rise to the big league ballclub. Now comes the revelation that the Yankees, and more specifically former general manager Gene Michael, considered a trade that would have sent Rivera to the Tigers for David “Boomer” Wells. That trade would have rated slightly better than a potential Fermin fiasco, but still would have been traumatic to the organization. How would the Yankees have fared without Rivera during their dynastic run? I suspect that you could scratch the 1996 world championship from the books, along with at least one of the pennants or World Series from the 1999-2001 teams. Luckily, with people like Michael and Bob Watson at the helm, the Yankees have avoided such transaction transgressions.

The revelations of these trades-that-almost-were should only enhance our appreciation for arguably the greatest Yankee of the last 15 years. Not only has Rivera set new standards as the premier close of all-time, but he has almost always handled himself professionally, with both class and accountability. In fact, I can remember only one moment of controversy, when he mentioned Scott Brosius’ inability to turn a double play in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. Rivera happened to be right about that play, but that didn’t stop the New York media muckrakers from raising cane. All in all, watching Rivera has been both a privilege and pure joy, just as it will be for Yankee fans when they witness his induction speech one day here in Cooperstown…

As Jose Molina nears the end of his extended stay on the disabled list, the Yankees continue to ponder their roster options. They basically have three choices: demote Francisco Cervelli to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, keep Cervelli and demote a 12th pitcher to the minor leagues, or trade Molina. Ordinarily, I don’t favor the idea of carrying three catchers, but the Yankees’ current situation begs to buck that trend. First off, the presence of a third catcher would make it easier for the Yankees to DH Posada once or twice a week without worrying about sacrificing the DH later in the game. Second, Cervelli is such a good defensive catcher and preferred by so many members of the starting rotation that he needs to be included in the equation. He is also athletic enough to learn another position or two, possibly third base and second base. A third-string catcher who can play other positions is a desirable commodity to have on the 25-man roster—far more desirable than the dreaded 12th pitcher.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

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