The Braves made it official Monday, announcing they were picking up Eric Hinske’s $1.5 million option for 2012, but the veteran utility man had actually known for more than a week.
Braves general manager Frank Wren texted a group of Braves’ veteran hitters about hiring hitting coach Greg Walker Oct. 21, prompting Hinske to text back: “Does that mean you’re picking up my option?”
Wren’s response: “Do you want us to?”
The response was something along the lines of “heck yes.” For the first time in five offseasons, Hinske knows where he’s headed before the holidays arrive. It was peace of mind for a popular member of the Braves clubhouse and anchor of their bench, who returns to Atlanta for a third straight season.
“I’m excited,” Hinske said from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Monday morning. “I really wanted to come back…The way the season ended last year I feel like we’ve got something to show people. We want to get back to the playoffs and get back to the World Series.”
Hinske signed a one-year deal with the Braves last December worth $1.35 million, which included a $1.5 million option for 2012.
As expected, the Braves declined Nate McLouth’s $10.65 million option and will buy him out for $1.25 million. McLouth hit only .229 with 21 home runs and 76 RBIs in 250 games in the past two-plus seasons since coming from the Pirates in a trade for outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez, pitching prospects Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.
Hinske, 34, hit .233 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in 236 at-bats last season while playing first base, left and right field. His 10 home runs were tied for third among National League batters with 240 at-bats or fewer.
“This is the toughest job in baseball,” Wren said. “They’re going to have up and down seasons but we still think ‘Ske is a threat and he’s such a great teammate. He makes an impact both on and off the field, and that’s important.”
Hinske has 21 homers in the past two years with the Braves, including five pinch-hit home runs, which ties him for fifth-most in franchise history. He takes pride in hitting double-digits in home runs but the career .252 hitter was disappointed average-wise.
“I didn’t feel like I played as well as I could have down the stretch last year,” Hinske said. “I’m sure a lot of players on our team will say the same.”
Hinske has emerged as a team leader in the Braves clubhouse and that’s a role he cherishes.
“All these guys are my good friends, and I want to go out there and battle with them,” Hinske said. “I don’t want to be with any other team. I want to be with the Atlanta Braves. I want to play with Brian McCann and Chipper Jones and David Ross and Dan Uggla. These guys are my boys.”