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Wouldn't Eric Hinske be nice now?

With both Cody Ross and Brett Carroll likely to start the season on the DL, I would like to take this time to point out a move I advocated earlier this offseason that would have been really beneficial today. Eric Hinske is currently toiling away as a backup bat for the Atlanta Braves, but before he signed on, I advocated picking up the guy on a cheap deal to be a backup corner infielder/outfielder who could provide value as a platoon guy if and when the Marlins deal Dan Uggla. Of course, the club never dealt Uggla, but with the team obviously desiring a left-handed bat on the bench to replace the departed Ross Gload, the club could have done worse than Hinske, who is at worst equally challenged defensively as Gload but a superior hitter.

Alas, Hinske signed with the contending Braves, and now the Marlins are scraping the bottom of the barrel with a young, not-yet-ready replacement for Ross early in the season.

How much would Hinske have cost the team? He signed with the Braves for $1M this season. The team is currently paying the headache-inducing (if not somehow effective) Renyel Pinto over $1M this season. The Marlins are also paying Wes Helms a salary close to $1M to occupy a bench spot as well. The club is planning on bringing in a non-roster invitee on board to occupy a final spot on the bench. One of Brian Barden, Hector Luna, or Donnie Murphy will be a part of the 25-man roster, at least to start the year, alongside Mike Lamb, who will be the lefty on the bench this year.

All of that means that the team had an extra spot on the bench ready to go for a corner guy that they would have had to pay the league minimum of $400K for. Check out how each of those guys project in wOBA (straight average between CHONE and ZiPS), along with how much they’re expected to be paid in 2010:

Player Avg. wOBA 2010 Salary
Eric Hinske .337 $1.0M
Wes Helms .299 $0.9M
Mike Lamb .303 $0.4M
Brian Barden .296 $0.4M
Hector Luna .322 $0.4M
Donnie Murphy .310 $0.4M

Look at that table and tell me the Marlins couldn’t afford the extra $600K for Hinske over these options (not including Uncle Wes, of course, who is locked in for this season anyway). Of course, there are other concerns. Barden, Luna, Lamb, and Murphy could each play third base a bit better than Hinske, but none of them profile as a great third baseman, and Helms is the backup at that position anyway. Luna and Murphy are natural middle infielders, but that’s why we have Emilio Bonifacio, right? Among these guys, Hinske has the most experience in the outfield, though he would’ve been the fifth outfielder ideally.

And let’s not trivialize the differences in offensive output. If this last bench spot gets 200 PA, the difference between Hinske’s .337 wOBA and the best option, Luna’s .322, is 2.5 runs. The difference between Hinske and Lamb, however, is 5.6 runs, a half win difference, the same half win we talked about yesterday with Rick VandenHurk and replacement level Nate Robertson. That two-run difference is nothing, easily made up for by defense (if Luna is an adequate defender in the outfield), but a five- or six-run gap would be more likely to be problematic.

Let’s couch this into the current context. If Ross misses significant time beyond his expected April 10th return from the DL (presuming he’s retroactively placed on March 26th), one of Scott Cousins, Jai Miller, or Bryan Petersen will take over the starting duties in right field. John has discussed each one of those guys here, here, and here respectively and did not have many good things to say for the time being. Each player needs seasoning in the minors. Here is how Hinske stacks up with each of those guys in terms of wOBA:

Player Avg. wOBA
Eric Hinske .337
Scott Cousins .295
Jai Miller .305
Bryan Petersen .306

If Ross misses 100 PA, for example, the difference between Hinske and the best option, Petersen, would be 2.6 runs to start the season. Maybe Petersen or Cousins make that up with defense (John projects Cousins to be a +10/150 games defender in the corners) or maybe not, but there is a subtle difference.

I won’t quibble about a fifth of a win in one month, but I think the team could have done much better for themselves by spending the extra bit and getting the average production from someone like Hinske over having to rely on replacement level fodder like Lamb or Barden to hold up the bench. The team was already in the market for a left-handed hitter, and having Hinske on board would have certainly helped out in late-inning pinch-hitting or in injury situations like these. The point is moot, since Hinske is not available now, but it would have been nice to have.

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Tags: Bryan Petersen Eric Hinske Jai Miller Miami Marlins Mike Lamb Scott Cousins

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