Some notes on a few 2012 Braves facing life after baseball:
Eric Hinske — There were signs coming into the 2012 season that Hinske might be nearing the end of his tenure as an effective bench player. His age (34) and body type (ample) did not suggest a great longterm prognosis, especially considering that the barrel previously located around his chest seemed in spring training to have begun its inexorable southward migration. He’d also lost 20 OPS+ points between 2010 and 2011, and was well into the phase of his career where his managers openly fretted about “playing him too much.”
Nevertheless, Hinske got off to a hot start — a 4-6 day at Coors Field on May 4 lifted his slash line to a robust .412/.444/.559….whereupon he promptly fell off a cliff. Unbelievable as it sounds, Hinske made a significant contribution to a Braves win only twice over the final five months (a two-run double on July 14 vs. the Mets and a double and run scored vs. the Nats six days later), despite being on the active roster throughout. Welcome to Shady Acres, Eric, where you’ll surely be a fixture on the front porch, entertaining residents and staff alike with your hearty bonhomie.
Matt Diaz — Diaz was (inexplicably) reacquired for the 2011 stretch run, and entered 2012 with a leg up on a roster spot thanks to his (also inexplicable) two-year contract. Diaz had served largely honorably in his previous Braves tenure, but in recent years had become increasingly buffeted about by the fickle breezes of BABIP, as his power waned. So desperate were the Braves Journal cognoscenti for the Braves to recognize sunk cost as it stared them in the face that such lesser lights as Jordan Parraz and Drew Sutton were seriously proposed as better alternatives.
Much like Hinske, though, Diaz began the year with his hitting shoes on, posting a .298/.382/.468 slash line through May 25. Unfortunately, this dead cat bounce was followed by a .164/.190/.230 fizzle from then until mid-July, whereupon Diaz was stowed away on the DL with a thumb injury circa 2010. Matt, it’s hard to see a way forward for you as a major league ballplayer, but your calming demeanor and Bible study group leadership will be greatly appreciated at Shady Acres.
Ben Sheets — The Braves have long specialized in aging reclamation projects, and while some don’t pan out (Jim Bouton, Ken Caminiti), a surprising number have made unexpected but genuine contributions (Julio Franco, Chris Hammond, John Burkett). Count Sheets firmly in the latter group, as he returned from multiple surgeries to provide a temporary but crucial bridge from Beachy to Medlen, ensuring the Braves had at least one ace starter in the rotation all season long. And his one-inning career coda in Game 162 rivaled all but a couple of moments from Chipper’s final chapter as the most heartwarming of the season. Ben, it’s an honor to have a multiple Purple Heart recipient in our midst — our veterans meet daily at the McDonald’s down the street, and you’ll never have to pay for a cup of coffee.
Jack Wilson — Wilson arrived in 2011 as one after another backup SS proved unable to contribute even a little bit. Watching him come in to spell Pastornicky early in the season was an exercise in futility, and Wilson whiled away his final days as a major leaguer perched quietly at the dugout railing, watching the games pass by without him. Jack, here are a few pamphlets for some bus tours we sponsor here at Shady Acres. Be sure to board early if you want a window seat.
Livan — how many times do we have to tell you you can’t just shuffle around in your bathrobe and shower shoes all day?!