Detroit Tigers Manager Candidate Series: AJ Hinch

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The Detroit Tigers will be addressing their manager position this offseason. AJ Hinch has been one of the names connected to the opening

An abrupt announcement was made Saturday that Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire would be retiring; citing health concerns and the desire to spend more time with his family. The timing to the end of his tenure was peculiar given the season will be over at the end of the month; however, despite Gardenhire planning for retirement at the end of the season, stated the burden became too boisterous physically to endure.

The change has now resulted in a temporary promotion of Detroit Tigers bench coach Lloyd McLendon, but there have already been names being floated by reputable sources including MLB Network’s JP Morosi on candidates the Detroit Tigers intend to consider permanently–one name being former Astros Manager AJ Hinch.

Background

AJ Hinch, like each Detroit Tigers manager on this side of the 21st century, had a playing career himself before taking the skipper title. According to Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, Hinch was a third-round selection by the Oakland Athletics out of Stanford University (from which he has a psychology degree) and would take a journeyman’s path through the major leagues as a catcher. Hinch would play for the A’s, Royals, Phillies, and our own Detroit Tigers–where he was featured as a backup catcher on the 2003 club.

After his playing career, he would spend some brief time in the San Diego Padres front office before eventually becoming manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 and part of 2010 when he was just 35 years old.

More recently, Hinch managed the Houston Astros 2015-2019 and would win a World Series with Houston in 2017. Hinch was banned from the league for the 2020 season as part of an investigation into the well-documented Astros sign-stealing scandal and was subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane for his inability to stop the cheating from happening.

Why Hinch as Detroit Tigers Manager Would Work

At face value, Hinch would be the best of both worlds. At 47, he would remain relatively young and relatable to players and has undoubtedly been influenced by analytics from his days with the Astros who are well-regarded for their minds in the front office and scouting. Unlike former manager Brad Ausmus, though, Hinch would come with years of experience under his belt and a World Series championship to stamp on his resume.

Hinch also has some familiarity with the Detroit Tigers, considering he played for the team in 2003 when current GM Al Avila was Assistant General Manager and Vice President. Hinch also managed the Astros during the call-up of a 20-year-old Carlos Correa among others; which may play into his hand considering young position prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene getting closer to the majors by the day.

Why Hinch as Detroit Tigers Manager Would Not Work

The obvious obstacle to Hinch as manager was his involvement in the Astros when they were stealing signs. Hinch’s discipline by the league comes more as a result of his complacency to the circumstance (although he was known to have destroyed monitors from which they stole signs on multiple occasions) opposed to his actual involvement in the scandal, which the league deemed “player-driven” after their three-month investigation.

The argument that Hinch’s success was more related to the talent in which he managed opposed to his deft tactics is also valid. Most managers around the league would have winning records and playoff runs with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchal, among others. Assuming Hinch could replicate the type of sustained success he had with Houston is unfair, but his winning ways with the Astros would nevertheless help his case for the career in Detroit.

Conclusion

With nothing to analyze in 2020 considering Hinch’s suspension, it is difficult to say how his styles and methods have changed (if at all). However, after the Detroit Tigers went with the young, academia choice without experience in Ausmus and juxtaposed that to the old dog in Gardenhire after Ausmus’ dismissal, Hinch would figure to offer a happy medium.

While I’d be fascinated about some of the other newer names to coaching (Don Kelly, Marcus Thames), I find it difficult that the Detroit Tigers would circle back to a young manager without managing experience. While AJ Hinch’s involvement in Houston will surely turn away some, his lack of involvement and his apology and acknowledgment of the issue would represent strength for his case as manager. Hinch in Detroit not only appears logical from a fit perspective, but he just might be the best choice for the role given the field.

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