Pirates, Hinske close to contract
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The Pirates and free-agent outfielder Eric Hinske are close to agreement on a one-year contract, multiple sources indicated last night, though it is not yet complete.
Hinske, 31, is a .254 career hitter with 105 home runs over seven seasons with three American League teams. Last season, he batted .247 with 20 home runs and 60 RBIs in 381 at-bats for the Tampa Bay Rays, with appearances in right and left field, as well as first and third base. His best season came as a rookie with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, when he batted .279 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs.
A financial settlement, once reached, must be followed by a physical. That could take place tomorrow or Friday, after which a contract could be signed.
If Hinske is signed, that surely would bring about the end of popular utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz's time in Pittsburgh. Mientkiewicz remains a free agent and, as of last night, still had not received a contract offer from the Pirates despite having made known -- publicly and to management -- his strong desire to return for a second season.
Hinske is not a strong defensive player, but he can play all four of Mientkiewicz's positions, thus offering manager John Russell a backup for first baseman Adam LaRoche, third baseman Andy LaRoche (though Ramon Vazquez is the primary backup there), as well as competition for the starting left field job currently -- but tentatively -- assigned to Nyjer Morgan, or even right field if Brandon Moss is not fully recovered from knee surgery.
Hinske also would bring more power than Mientkiewicz, who hit two home runs in 285 at-bats.
One significant drawback: Hinske is a left-handed hitter, so he does not fit the stated need for a right-handed power bat. Moreover, he struggles immensely against left-handed pitching, having batted .162 the past three seasons.
The bench, in addition to Hinske and Vazquez, could include outfielders Steve Pearce, Craig Monroe and Jeff Salazar, infielder Andy Phillips and utilityman Luis Cruz, among others who will try out in spring training for the two remaining spots.
If Hinske is not signed for some reason, the Pirates have other options, including Luis Gonzalez, a free agent with whom they spoke Friday, though not in a formal negotiation.
Gonzalez, 41, is a career .283 hitter with 354 home runs over 18 seasons. Last season, he batted .261 with eight home runs and 47 RBIs in 341 at-bats as a bench player for the Florida Marlins, a role he apparently would embrace again.
"No question, Luis would welcome an opportunity to come to a team like Pittsburgh, where he can be a mentor to some of their younger players," Gonzalez's agent, Gregg Clifton, said yesterday. "He's in tremendous physical shape, just like he's always been, and he loves the role he had last year with Florida."
NOTES -- The Pirates are not trying to trade Adam LaRoche. ... They were not one of the nine teams that watched free-agent starter Kris Benson's workout last week. Clifton also represents Benson. ... Hinske made $800,000 last season, Gonzalez $2.5 million.
First Published January 28, 2009 12:00 am