How Eric Hinske Will Help the Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew Kaufman@akaufman23Senior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2009

The Pirates made their annual free-agent “splash” last week, when they signed utility man Eric Hinske to a one-year deal.

Shockingly, given that the hometown Steelers were only two days away from laying claim to their NFL-leading sixth Super Bowl title, few Pittsburgh natives noticed. And those who did weren’t exactly floored by the move—many lamented management’s decision to offer Hinske a contract instead of Steel City favorite Doug Mientkiewicz.

But, while he certainly is not the kind of player who can drastically alter a team’s fortunes, Eric Hinske should contribute nicely to the Pirates in 2009. He brings two assets—position versatility and power—which the Buccos sorely lack.

Hinske can play both corner infield and both corner outfield positions, arguably the four positions in which the Pirates need the most offensive help.

Hinske can takeover for the inconsistent Andy LaRoche at third base or the inexperienced Nyjer Morgan in left field when necessary, can fill in for Brandon Moss in right field while Moss recovers from knee surgery, and can give Adam LaRoche a rest at first base if LaRoche’s annual first-half struggles continue.

But what is most significant about Hinske joining the Pirates is his bat. The 2002 American League Rookie of the Year adds some power to a lineup that is sorely lacking in that area.

Hinske’s 20 home runs in limited time with the Tampa Bay Rays last season—he only had 381 at-bats—were third-most by an 2009 Pirate, behind only Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche. In contrast, McLouth hit his 26 home runs in 597 at-bats. His .465 slugging percentage would have ranked fourth on the team, behind McLouth, LaRoche, and team leader Ryan Doumit.

While he won’t play every day, odds are Hinske will have ample opportunity to impact the Pittsburgh line-up. Given the uncertainty at all four positions Hinske plays, his role as the Pirates best and most versatile bench player means he should see at least three or four starts each week, if not more.

Furthermore, Hinske’s presence means Pirate management can take extra care to avoid rushing prospects such as Andrew McCutchen to the big club if it feels they are not yet ready. Instead, Hinske can provide more-than-adequate production while McCutchen and the other youngsters prepare to lead the Pirates of the future. All for $1.5 million.

He’s no Mark Teixeira, but the Pirates got a pretty good deal.