The Braves signed a former Yankee outfielder late last night, but it wasn’t Johnny Damon, the one we half-expect them to land. Instead, Atlanta signed Eric Hinske to a one-year deal. The utility player will serve as a bench player and pinch-hitter for the Braves.
Hinske came to the Yankees in mid-2009 in a deal that sent Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer to the Pirates. While with the Yanks, he hit .226/.316/.512 with seven home runs in 98 plate appearances. In the postseason, he made just one appearance and walked during the World Series. He also inspired one of the all-time best Beyond the Box Score posts.
Generally, we would consider this a minor Hot Stove move, but it has some interesting ramifications for the 2010 Yankees. Earlier this off-season, we had heard that Hinske was interested in playing with Japan, and for a brief second, it sounded as though the Yankees were interested in bringing him back as a bench player. While atrocious in the field, Hinske provided the team with some much-needed pop off the bench. Clearly, though, the Yankees were willing to let him walk.
On a grander scheme, then, Hinske’s departure highlights a current problem with the Yankees. Their bench as it stands right now is really bad. Those not starting include Francisco Cervelli, Jamie Hoffmann and Ramiro Peña. Jerry Hairston is a free agent, and outside of Juan Miranda — deadly against righties, deathly against lefties — the Yanks have no obvious in-house options for their remaining bench spots.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Brian Cashman mold and reshape his bench over the course of the baseball season, and this year is shaping up to be no exception. Reupping with Hairston is no sure thing as the Padres seem to have their sights set on him, and the list of remaining free agents feature some intriguing bats who will probably cost too much money.
To start the year, the Yanks will probably issue a bunch of Spring Training invites and hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle for a few months. With All Stars at nearly every position, that is right now the best we can hope for unless the Yankees are willing to overpay some role players, and that the team will not do.