Why the Detroit Tigers are frontrunners to hire A.J. Hinch as manager

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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No, the Detroit Tigers aren’t considering Jim Leyland as their next manager. Not Alan Trammell, either.

With that cleared up, former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, having served his one-year suspension from MLB for his role in the team’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal, is Tigers general manager Al Avila’s No. 1 candidate, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

And the path for Avila to hire him is clear, considering the Chicago White Sox — the top destination for prospective managers this offseason — filled their vacancy Thursday with 76-year-old Tony La Russa, who left his job as a senior adviser of baseball operations with the St. Louis Cardinals to take over a young core of players ready to compete for a World Series.

Call them crazy, but it actually happened: La Russa to the White Sox for the second time. (He managed in Chicago from 1979-86, going 522-510 with a division title in 1983.)

“Once it became clear that Tony was very much open to this, the process did change, the focus was how do we make it work with Tony,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday.

[ Making the case for A.J. Hinch as Tigers manager (subscribers only) ]

Hinch fit the expected requirement of having “experience with a championship organization in recent years,” as stated by Hahn when the organization fired manager Rick Renteria despite the team’s first playoff berth since 2008. Still, the organization, commanded by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, picked La Russa, who becomes the oldest active manager in MLB.

As Alex Cora, who has also served his one-year suspension for the Astros’ scandal, seems poised for a return to the Boston Red Sox, nothing makes more sense than Hinch to the Tigers.

“Obviously, the cheating scandal is not a good thing,” Avila said about Hinch and Cora on Oct. 2. “They’re serving their suspensions. And once their suspensions are over, they’ll be free to pursue their careers. We have not eliminated anybody from our list at this point.”

When pressed in a follow-up question, he was more direct.

“I have them on my list,” Avila said.

[ A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora will be considered for Detroit Tigers’ manager position ]

Seeking a replacement for retired manager Ron Gardenhire, Avila wants someone with a reputation for understanding three key departments: analytics, player development and the front office. 

Hinch gives the Tigers these qualities. He worked as the manager of minor-league operations for the Arizona Diamondbacks after his playing career — which included a stint in Detroit in 2003 — ended, then spent three years as Arizona’s director of player development before moving into the managerial ranks. He served nearly as the San Diego Padres’ vice president of professional scouting, too.

Of course, he has seven years of managerial experience, which includes four postseason appearances from 2015-19 with the Astros. He captured the AL West crown in three consecutive seasons before he was fired for not doing enough to stop his players’ sign-stealing, trash can-banging plan.

[ Tigers managerial search: These are candidates, traits Al Avila is looking at ]

Hinch needs the Tigers, and the Tigers — to be honest — need Hinch. The organization is in search of an on-field revival to escape the rebuild.

Hiring Hinch would likely create some public backlash for Avila. Feelings are still raw after a perceived lack of punishment for Houston’s route to winning the 2017 World Series. (No players were punished, and the franchise’s punishment of forfeited draft picks didn’t draw much attention.) Likewise, his first year would likely be bumpy, as the Tigers project to struggle once again with expected free-agent rentals to fill holes in the lineup.

But if Hinch can win a few more games, develop the team’s top talent and oversee a contender in 2022 and beyond, his past transgressions will fade away. If that happens, the Tigers will be rewarded for nabbing a manager the White Sox weren’t willing to fully consider. (Hinch wasn’t even interviewed.)

With the ChiSox out of the equation, Detroit is on the clock.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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