Detroit — For the record, AJ Hinch had a ham and cheese omelette, he didn’t stay for lunch and he was there just to deliver a baby present.
That’s the whole story behind the viral, under-the-table cell phone paparazzi snap of Hinch and free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa eating at a Tiny Boxwoods restaurant in Houston last week.
“I didn’t realize it was as big a deal as it was,” Hinch said on Monday after Eduardo Rodriguez’s introductory press conference at Comerica Park. “I was delivering a baby gift.”
Hinch and general manager Al Avila have been having dinners with several free agents over the past few weeks that were straight-up recruiting trips. One was in Miami two weekends ago and it landed a five-year, $77 million deal for Rodriguez, a veteran left-handed starting pitcher.
Hinch and Correa obviously have a close relationship. Hinch was his manager from 2015-2019. Hinch still keeps his home in Houston and the two families have remained close. No doubt Hinch made his Detroit pitch to Correa, but if that chat at the diner was a full-on recruiting trip, Correa’s agent would’ve been there. Avila would’ve been there.
“There’s a lot to like about a lot of players who are out there,” Hinch said. “And we’re trying to get better. We want winners here and we want to win and that’s why we are here today. There’s a ton of interest in coming to Detroit from a lot of players because I think people are aware that our trajectory is going in the right direction.”
The reality is, the cost of bringing Correa to Detroit — presumably more than $30 million per year and $300 million full-term — may be more than the Tigers’ are willing to pay right now. Both chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch and Avila were asked directly Monday about their willingness to spend that kind of money on one player.
Neither spoke directly about Correa. Both spoke of fiscal responsibility.
“Al is going to have all the resources we need as a ballclub to insure we continue to improve and ultimately to be a playoff contender and a World Series champion,” Ilitch said. “We’ve got an open mind and anything is on the table.
“Having said that, we also want to make sure what we do going forward allows the organization to have sustainable success over the long haul. … Our goal isn’t to be good one time, but to be good over the course of time. We are going to mindful of that as we look at contracts moving forward.”
Avila made it clear the Tigers were still actively pursuing a starting shortstop.
“I don’t know where it’s going to take us, but we’re going to try,” Avila said.
Besides Correa, the Tigers also have been linked to free agents Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
“I can tell you, we said we were going to take a measured approach to the offseason,” Avila said. “We’re going to sign players to make the team better. Obviously, we want to get into the playoffs. But we have to be careful as we move forward. Not one player is going to make us a winner.
“We have to make sure we put together a 26-man roster. This is going to be a step-by-step measured process and we’re going to be very careful how we’re going to do it.”
It won’t be for a lack of effort. Avila and Hinch have been crisscrossing the country meeting with free agents.
“Basically, by trading for (catcher) Tucker Barnhart and signing Eduardo Rodriguez, that in itself is a recruiting tool,” Avila said. “It shows other players that we’re here for real. We’re trying to win and trying to bring in the best players and build a winning franchise.
“Also I think I have the best manager in baseball and that’s a great recruiting tool as well.”
Avila planned to stay in Detroit until Wednesday before flying home to Miami for Thanksgiving. He knows full well that the owners likely will order a lockout if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t agreed to by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1.
But, he repeated, it’s business as usual until something changes.
“If you’re trying to get something done because you think Dec. 1 is the deadline, then I think you’re making a mistake,” he said.
Around the horn
Hinch said on Monday that his coaching staff would be returning intact. He had interviewed for the first-base coaching job but in the end, incumbent Kimera Bartee retained it.