This Wednesday evening in Atlanta, we've got word from Scott Miller of CBS Sports that the Braves have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with lefty four corners reserve Eric Hinske. Terms are as yet unreported, and the deal is pending a physical. Hinske can certainly help the Braves; he's a plus defender at first base and in both outfield corners, so his versatility will be a boost to a team that's got question marks at all three of those positions. He brings some modest sock from the left side as well.
That said, the signing concerns me quite a bit as well. We got a tweet from MLB.com's Mark Bowman earlier today: "Braves GM Frank Wren said he is just looking for one more small piece to fill his offensive needs. Basically needs a primary pinch hitter." Well, that's Hinske, and Hinske is decidedly NOT the piece de resistance that Wren still needs to complete his offensive rebuild. Hinske's .337 career wOBA makes for a solid bench player and occasional starter, but the offense still needs another cog. The combination of Hinske, Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward between the two corner outfield spots simply does not impress me. I don't view any of those four as regular players at this point, and it's not as if you can combine all their virtues and make two starters. Even if Heyward bursts right out of the gate as a starting-caliber player (which is a mighty risky bet, to say the least), that still leaves left field as a weak spot, and the Braves' isn't a strong enough lineup up and down to compensate for said soft spot. Perhaps you could parlay Hinske's platoon virtues (.804 career OPS vs. RHP, compared to .666 vs. LHP) into a job share with Diaz, but a platoon on one corner and a rookie not even old enough to legally drink on the other corner? With no backup plan to speak of if somebody gets hurt or fails to produce? I don't like it.
Something is odd with Wren's strategy, because he's got this obvious need for another hitter, and even if Hinske's deal is worth $3-4 million, payroll is still going to fall in the low-80s. Would there not be room for, say, Johnny Damon at perhaps $7 million, which would keep guaranteed payroll under $90 million, and under $95 million even if Takashi Saito and Troy Glaus reach all their incentives? Let's hope so, because as it stands right now, the Braves are going to have count on everything going just right if they want to keep pace with Roy Halladay's Phillies and Jason Bay's Mets, and even then it might not be enough.