Tigers tab AJ Hinch as new manager

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Seventeen years after AJ Hinch was a backup catcher for the 2003 Tigers, he’s coming back to Detroit to help the latest group of young Tigers take the next step toward contention. Detroit hired the former Astros and D-backs manager as its next skipper on Friday.
The announcement

DETROIT — Seventeen years after AJ Hinch was a backup catcher for the 2003 Tigers, he’s coming back to Detroit to help the latest group of young Tigers take the next step toward contention. Detroit hired the former Astros and D-backs manager as its next skipper on Friday.

The announcement came exactly one year after Hinch’s last game as Astros manager, Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.

Detroit spent the past four weeks interviewing close to a dozen candidates for the chance to replace Ron Gardenhire, who retired as the Tigers’ manager last month. But the club moved quickly once Hinch was free to talk to clubs after the World Series ended Tuesday night, completing his suspension for the 2020 season after Major League Baseball’s investigation of the Astros’ sign-stealing allegations.

Hinch was expected to be a candidate for the White Sox managerial opening, but Chicago hired Tony La Russa on Thursday. Hinch and the Tigers had mutual interest, and he interviewed on Thursday in Detroit, then quickly moved into negotiations.

The Tigers have deeper ties with Hinch than his playing history. When Hinch worked a decade ago in the Padres’ front office as their director of pro scouting, one of his top scouts was Scott Bream, who is now the Tigers’ director of pro personnel and a trusted assistant to general manager Al Avila.

Bream and Hinch remain close. When Hinch served as Astros manager from 2015-19, Bream often went to Houston when the Tigers were in town and served as the team’s representative for the trip.

Hinch played 27 games for the Tigers and then-assistant GM Avila in 2003 after Detroit purchased his contract from Cleveland at the end of Spring Training. His manager in Detroit was Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, currently a Tigers special assistant. Another former Tigers great and special assistant, Kirk Gibson, was Hinch’s bench coach with the D-backs in 2009-10.

Likewise, Hinch knows some about how the Tigers work. He hired Don Kelly out of their scouting department to join his Astros coaching staff in 2019. He managed Justin Verlander for two-plus seasons following the right-hander’s trade from Detroit to Houston on Aug. 31, 2017.

Just as important, Hinch is comfortable and well-versed in analytics through Houston, an important factor in all the Tigers’ interviews. Detroit has invested heavily to try to catch up with other clubs in that area, both in personnel and technology, and the team wants its next manager to take full advantage of that.

Hinch finished with a 481-329 record in five seasons as Astros manager. He won 101-plus games in each of his final three seasons, and he never finished with a losing record. Add in two years as D-backs manager in 2009 and ’10, and Hinch owns a 570-452 record in seven Major League seasons. He helped turn a collection of talented Astros prospects into a perennial contender.

Those Astros prospects included top-5 picks in four consecutive MLB Drafts, including Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. The Tigers will become the first team since the Astros with four consecutive top-5 picks when they draft third overall next year. Of that group, Casey Mize joined the Tigers’ rotation in August, while top hitting prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene were part of Summer Camp and the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio.

The appeal for Hinch is the chance to take a Tigers roster that, while not necessarily ready to contend immediately, is stockpiling young talent, much like the Astros when Hinch took over. The core of Detroit’s pitching staff is already in the organization, with top prospects Mize and Tarik Skubal having joined the rotation this past season and fellow first-round Draft picks Matt Manning and Alex Faedo expected to make the jump at some point next year. Bryan Garcia and Gregory Soto front a talented-but-inexperienced bullpen.

Building a lineup to go with that collection of arms has been more of a challenge, and it will likely be the biggest task Hinch faces. Detroit has struggled for run production throughout the rebuilding process, between the growing pains of young hitters and the aging of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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