Braves add Hinske, human good-luck charm

Eric Hinske played for different teams in each of the past three World Series, and the Braves sure hope he can extend his streak as a human good-luck charm.

They signed Hinske to a one-year, $1 million contract to be a pinch-hitter and versatile bench player -- including backing up injury-prone first baseman Troy Glaus.

"I love what I see here, and that's why I signed," said Hinske, 32, who has experience at all four infield and outfield corner positions.

"I had some other offers, and I took my time and weighed all of them, and kept coming back to this one. It really seemed like the best situation."

Hinske, 32, the American League Rookie of the Year in 2002, has been a backup in recent seasons. He hit .242 with eight homers in 224 at-bats for Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees in 2009, .300 as a pinch-hitter.

The left-handed hitter had 20 homers and 60 RBIs in almost twice as many at-bats (432) in 2008 with Tampa Bay. Against right-handers that season, Hinske hit .262 with 19 homers and a robust .844 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) in 332 at-bats.

"Eric gives us another proven major-league bat that Bobby Cox can use in a variety of ways," general manager Frank Wren said. "He is a top-notch pinch hitter who can play multiple positions in the field."

The former University of Arkansas star played in World Series with Boston (2007), Tampa Bay (2008) and the Yankees (2009).

"I've just been in the right place at the right time, I guess," Hinske said of the streak.

Asked if it were more than luck and if he might've had something to do with those teams' success, he smiled and said, "I think they'd all tell you I did, for sure."

Hinske agreed to contract terms with the Braves on Jan. 5, but the announcement of the deal was delayed until he took a physical Tuesday.

He gets a $1 million salary and can make up to $500,000 more through incentives. To open a roster spot, outfielder Brandon Jones was designated for assignment.

Hinske never developed into the standout many thought he would be after his rookie success with Toronto, but has carved a career as a solid, energetic bench player.

He said he didn't know what it took to win until he got to Boston.

"When you're winning championships, it takes all 25 guys," he said. "You need your bench, your bullpen, you need every man. It's important. Clubhouse chemistry is huge. If you're good in the clubhouse and know how to get along with guys, it makes it easier."

Hinske could be the last roster addition for the Braves, as Wren indicated the team was close to its payroll target. The Braves have said payroll would be similar to last year's estimated $92 million.

Rumors nevertheless persist that the Braves could make a late offer to free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon, whose price tag might be falling as his options seemingly diminish.

Hinske appeared to be on a path to major-league stardom after winning the 2002 rookie award when he hit .279 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs.

His totals that season remain career-highs for average, homers and RBIs, in addition to at-bats (566) and on-base percentage (.365).

Hinske had more than 500 plate appearances in four consecutive seasons with Toronto, playing in 147 or more games three times in that stretch.

But in his past four seasons he has been primarily a bench guy, playing in more than 100 games once -- in 2008, when he played 133 games for Tampa Bay after outfielder Rocco Baldelli got sick.

Despite reduced production last season, he hit .300 in 30 pinch-hit at-bats with three doubles, seven walks and a .421 on-base percentage.

The Braves hope Hinske can help keep Glaus healthy by allowing the veteran slugger to get some rest whenever Glaus' surgically repaired shoulder or feet -- or anything else -- are sore.

"I played with him one year in Toronto, so I know Troy pretty well," Hinske said. "He does have his times where he needs a day. And that's why they signed me, so if there's a right-handed [pitcher], a day game after a night game, Troy needs a [rest] -- I'm here.

"You need that [bench] guy. And from the start, when Frank and Bruce [Manno, assistant GM] called they said, ‘You're the guy we want. You're the one we targeted from the start of the offseason.' It's a good feeling to know you're wanted."

Having Hinske and Glaus, a former third baseman, gives the Braves options to back up their other important, injury-plagued veteran infielder, third baseman Chipper Jones.