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Buyer Beware: Shea Hillenbrand

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Last night, the Toronto Blue Jays designated 3B/1B/DH Hillenbrand for assignment.  Should his services draw interest from the Twins?  If so, at what cost?

Over the past two years, as the Minnesota Twins bloggosphere has bloomed to where it is today, there have been a few names that are constantly recycled in trade rumors.  It happens for a number of reasons.  The player fills a need on our team: he plays third base, second base, can be a designated hitter, is right-handed.  The player is expendable from another team:  playing time issues, is redundant, team is out of contention.  Whatever the case, we know who these names are.  Alfonso Soriano, Kevin Mench, Mike Sweeney and of course Shea Hillenbrand are a few of the most popular.

Due to a series of circumstances which, to me, certainly seems like he's playing the role of Massive Drama Queen, Hillenbrand could be falling in our laps.  I wanted him before, but after checking out the situation I'm not so sure.  What about you?

Here's the breakdown:

  1. Shea Hillenbrand informs the Blue Jays he'll be taking time off to adopt a second child with his wife.
  2. Leaving Friday night, Hillenbrand returns to the Blue Jays just before game time on Tuesday.  He's not used in the game.
  3. Hillenbrand expresses disappointment that with the Blue Jays organization for not congratulating him on his family's recent adoption.
  4. Prior to Hillenbrand's second game back, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons allegedly calls him out during a pre-game meeting, and was "critical" of him.
  5. Hillenbrand refuses to sit with his teammates during the game.
  6. During the game and from the clubhouse, Hillenbrand answers questions from the media on his cell phone, stating his disappointment in not playing, but particularly expressing his disappointment in Gibbons and the organization.
  7. Following the game, Hillenbrand is designated for assignment, due to his behavior.
That's a pretty even-handed explaination of what happened.  If you're having a hard time taking a side or seeing why I'm calling Hillenbrand a Massive Drama Queen, read this article from MLB.com, read this article from ESPN.com or add up these quotes.

Was he surprised he was excluded from the lineup?

"Yeah, I was very surprised. They knew when I was going to be here. I should've just stayed home."

In response, said manager John Gibbons:

"He's been out four days. He needs a workout in the field. I'm not sure what time he got here [on Tuesday], but he wasn't here for the workout. He got hung up somewhere. He hasn't swung the bat or taken ground balls in four days."

In regards to the lack of communication to him and his family regarding their adoption:

"Not one person from the front office has come up to congratulate me. Just the little people have -- like you [reporters] have. That's a disgrace."

Shea Hillenbrand then discussed his displeasure with being a designated hitter, a possible red flag for Twins fans hoping to pick up the veteran hitter.  How does he feel about how he's being used?

"I love my teammates, but I'm waiting to get traded. I should've been traded two months ago. They're paying me $6 million for this?"

Really, that's quite enough.  You're now sufficiently informed to make up your own mind about the character of Shea Hillenbrand.

Statistically, could he give the Twins a boost?  Not that it seems like it's necessary now, but yes, he certainly could.  For the year, Hillenbrand was hitting .301/.342/.480 in 296 at-bats, with 12 homers, 15 doubles, 39 RBI, 14 walks and 40 strikeouts.  He's right-handed.  He can play third base, first base, and if we ask really nice he might play designated hitter...if only to rub it in the face of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Here's the hitch that, for me, pulls the most weight.  I have a great deal of respect for Toronto General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, who cited "irreconcilable differences" between Hillenbrand and the Blue Jays.  He also said that Hillenbrand was designated because of his behavior, and that no player was above the team.

Toronto is now on a deadline.  They have 10 days to trade Shea Hillenbrand (possible), send him outright to the minors (never happen) or release him (distincly possible).  Whatever market there was for his services will have dwindled, reducing what Toronto can receive in a trade.  But thinking of it as a business, you'd rather get something than nothing, even if it's a low-grade prospect.  At least you wouldn't be eating his salary.

Could the Twins acquire Shea Hillenbrand?  Yes, but we'd be responsible for the remainder of his salary.  Could the Twins convince Ricciardi to pay the rest of Hillenbrand's salary this season?  It depends what Terry Ryan would offer.

The question we all need to ask before we jump into this, however, is whether the Twins can afford to acquire Hillenbrand.  Not financially, not statistically, but personally.  Character and personality are intangibles.  "Intangibles" is a dirty, ugly word in the stats-driven world of baseball, but they still exist.  They make a difference.  Before you acquire a player, there's a reason there are reports on his character history.  Before you draft a player, there's a reason there are reports on his grades in college and high school. Mental makeup matters.

With Stewart out for the year, Hunter out until at least the end of July if not longer, with Kubel's knees in pain, with no power coming from third base, with no reliable bench hitter besides Mike Redmond, the Twins can use another bat.  Does the offensive potential outweigh the recent character issue?

Hillenbrand's Career Statistics

Year    AB    H  2B  HR  BB  So   Avg   Obp   Slg   Ops
2001   468  123  20  12  13  61  .269  .291  .391  .682
2002   634  186  43  18  25  95  .293  .330  .459  .789
2003   515  144  35  20  24  70  .280  .314  .468  .782
2004   562  174  36  15  24  49  .310  .348  .464  .812
2005   594  173  36  18  26  79  .291  .343  .449  .792
2006   296   89  15  12  14  40  .301  .342  .480  .822
Total 3069  889 185  95 126 394  .290  .328  .451  .779