After the Marlins are done purging a good deal of their starting lineup this season for the purposes of a lack of money, the Fish are going to have some holes to fill. One of those holes is in the corner outfield, where longtime prospect Jeremy Hermida is undoubtedly on his way out and, ideally, Chris Coghlan is on his way to a move to the infield to replace a likely departing Dan Uggla. The team is also likely to need assistance in the corner infield spots, with the departure of Jorge Cantu likely (and the correct move) and the departure of Nick Johnson assured.
Those two holes are going to be difficult to fill, especially with the team’s low payroll. Today, I offer the free agent solution to all of these problems, wrapped up in one neat package. That package, my friends, is Eric Hinske.
Hinske was a former AL Rookie of the Year in his playing days with the Toronto Blue Jays, but since then has fallen well out of favor. It isn’t terribly hard to imagine why; after an excellent rookie campaign in which he posted a .369 wOBA off of a .279/.365/.481 slash line, his production dipped and he’s never reached that sort of play since. After an average 2003 season, he posted a dismal .300 wOBA in 2004 and seemed to be on the outs in Toronto. In 2006, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox off of a good campaign, but was relegated to a bench role and limited playing time in 2007.
In 2008, Hinske signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and outperformed his contract by a mile, producing 20 home runs, a .247/.333/.465 slash line, and a .347 wOBA in 432 PA. Combined with his defense (more on that later) and the Rays got a 2 WAR player for $800K!
This season, Hinske signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was relegated mostly to bench duty, though he performed well (.339 wOBA) in limited time. He was then dealt to the New York Yankees, where he served in a similar capacity and also played well (.350 wOBA). He was worth 0.8 WAR in just 224 PA this season, all for only $1.5M in salary.
So why should the Marlins be interested in Eric Hinske? The answer to that question lies in one word: versatility.
Back in his Toronto days, Hinske was a third baseman, though he wasn’t particularly good at the position. Since then, he has been moved around a bit in the field, going across the diamond to first base and venturing into the corner outfield positions. Having accrued about a full season’s worth of playing time in the corner outfield, Hinske has a UZR/150 of 5.0 between left and right field. In addition, he’s accrued a little more than a full season playing at first base, where he has a UZR/150 of 3.3. While these sample sizes are pretty small, they seem to agree with other defensive metrics; Total Zone has him at 1.7 runs above average in 1350 innings in the outfield and 4.2 runs above average in the same time at first base. The fans are much harsher on him, having him at around the 30’s overall.
What I gather from it is that, all in all, Hinske appears to be about league average at each of these primary positions, and conveniently the Marlins have holes in these exact positions. Sure, the team has Brett Carroll and Gaby Sanchez presumably to fill the discussed spots, but investing in a major league backup that can actually hit as well and won’t hurt you in the field might be a great boost for the team. The last two seasons, Hinske has shown a decent glove and somewhat above average hitting, which is more than what the Marlins have gotten out of these positions the last few years. Did I mention he’s also a lefty hitter, making him an excellent platoon partner for BC in case the Marlins go that way to start the year?
Of course, I went ahead and projected Hinske’s numbers based on his last few seasons. For his batting, I projected only his platoon numbers, i.e. vs. right handers only. Using an 8/4/2/1, I got a projected .346 wOBA vs. just righties. Gien that he won’t only face right handers this year, we can knock that down a peg to an estimated .342 wOBA (just guessing here, but I don’t think it’s out of line, especially given his recent performances). Defensively, I projected using a 5/4/3/2/1 for both the outfield corners and first base, and Hinske came out exactly as I thought. The projection at both positions was dead-on average, zeroes for both.
I gave Hinske the same number of games as I gave Endy Chavez in the previous free agent projection piece (112 defensive games, 436 PA), giving him 75% of his games in the corner outfield and 25% at first base, as Hinske could be used to rest Sanchez or whoever starts at third base (by moving Sanchez to third). With that type of playing time, the Marlins can expect 1.3 WAR worth of production. Again, that’s very similar to what Chavez would provide, but Hinske’s package is more centered around offense than it is around defense, making most fans feel more “assured” of their production. Also, while Hinske’s versatility to play both the outfield and first base actually hinders his production due to the positional adjustment, I think it’s actually a boon to the team, as it allows the club to be flexible about who it starts and who it can rest, knowing that they have a capable defender at multiple positions.
Again, the best part is the price. Hinske came off a renaissance 2008 and received $1.5M to be a bench player in Pittsburgh. This year, he played even less, which undoubtedly means he’ll once again be out looking for a job, probably on the cheap. Using this year’s current WAR rate, his expected production would be worth $5.85M on the open market, though it could be even more if the price inflates at the usual rate, something the rate did not do last year due to the nation’s economic downturn. If we go by the Marlins’ WAR rate, we’d expect to pay Hinske $2.6M, still above what he’s likely to receive.
Once again, we have a cheap veteran player who can actually play (a distinction not often made when acquiring veteran bench players) who will be available for less than his estimated market worth. Time to exploit the inefficiency and go after Eric Hinske. Do it, Marlins front office!