Sunday, February 21, 2010

Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Eric Hinske

The Atlanta Braves, in what has proved to be their last notable signing of the 2009-10 offseason, signed a one-year, $1 million contract back in January.

And it really didn't send any sort of shockwaves through the Major League Baseball community.

A 32-year-old bench-rider signing a microscopic (relatively speaking, I'd love a million dollars) contract with Johnny Damon still on the market (remember, the rumors for him started churning about the time Hinske was signed before signing with Detroit earlier this month) isn't exactly going to make the pundits on MLB Tonight and Hot Stove rant and rave.

But, I don't think the lack of publicity this move received should be allowed to downplay the significance of it.

Think about it...

This is a guy that is going to be relied on to fill holes at first, third, left, and right whenever they may pop up.

And with the question marks being what they are at both corners of the infield with Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus' recent injury histories (even though Chipper led the Bravos in games played last season), you have to figure the Braves are expecting this guy to be ready at all times.

Oh, ad did I mention that he's likely to be the primary pinch-hitter?

Dude's got a lot on his plate.

That's why I'm expecting him to get into 90-120 games this season (15-25 at the hot corner, 15-35 for Glaus, 15-20 in the outfield, and 45-75 games as a pinch-hitter--depending on his playing time in the field).

And if he does that, then I think that we have to hope for more than the (granted, most of this was as a PH, though he did play 56 of his 93 games in the field at some point last season) .242 average, eight homers, and 52:27 K:BB ratio he posted last season in a season split between Pittsburgh and the World Champion Yankees (the third time in three years with his third different team that he's gone to the Series...confusing enough phrasing?...thought so).

His talent isn't what you could call elite, so I'm not calling on him to replicate his 2002 Rookie of the Year campaign in which he hit .274 with 24 homers and 13 steals.

But something similar to his 2006 when he split time between a near-full-time role in Toronto and a bench role in Boston and hit .271 with 13 homers from the left side of the plate in 109 games would, for me, be more than passable for any ailments the Braves' may suffer from at any of the corners in 2010.

No matter how many games he ends up playing, I believe that he's going to be pivotal in determining the Braves' October chances when he does get his chances.

Be they from the bench in the eighth and ninth or in the field when Chipper strains a muscle, his chances will be coming when the tension's tightest and pressure is highest...and his performance in those situations will, without a doubt, affect the outcome of plenty of games in Hotlanta this year.

Now, with the "pressure" segue out of the way, I'll get to work on the next X-Factor...Chipper Jones and his (hopeful) comeback.

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