Detroit Tigers should find some transparency about A.J. Hinch’s contract

Detroit Free Press

I have a great idea for how the Detroit Tigers can fix their offense: Acquire Isaac Paredes.

Sorry. Too soon?

In the interest of being clear, I have to admit that’s a joke. To be transparent, it wasn’t actually funny.

Now I just need the Tigers to return the favor and be equally clear and transparent about the mess they’re in, starting with manager A.J. Hinch’s contract.

If you haven’t been keeping track of the drama, the status of Hinch’s contract has turned into a dizzying game of ping-pong. It started as a total mystery, then became less mysterious for 14 months because of a reported opt-out clause, and after a recent report refuted the opt-out clause and stated, according to sources, that Hinch’s contract runs through 2025, we all have whiplash.

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Most outings, the Tigers give us a brand of confusing baseball on the field, but now the team is giving us a ball of confusion when it comes to the contractual commitment between the organization and its manager.

When Hinch was finally asked directly about his contract last week and given a chance to clear the air, he balked.

“I’m not going to talk about any contract,” Hinch told reporters Friday in Phoenix. “There’s no need for me to. I’m the manager of the Tigers. They’ve signed me here for a long time. I feel good being here.”

I’m not wholly unsympathetic to Hinch’s situation. No one likes discussing their contracts because it’s about money and their future. It’s personal and uncomfortable. After all, do you know how much money your siblings or your in-laws make? We get used to players’ contracts getting leaked almost immediately, but it’s a little more rare for coaches and sports executives.

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It’s not unheard of, however. And what gave the initial opt-out report, in a tweet by longtime Detroit News reporter Lynn Henning, credence was the silence on the Tigers’ part, especially in comparison to their two previous managers’ contracts, whose lengths were both announced. It would make sense for the Tigers to keep mum on the length of the deal if it contained language that implied Hinch’s hesitancy.

In an article detailing the Tigers’ season of struggles and systemic failure, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported last week general manager Al Avila said Hinch’s contract has no opt-out clause. But after Rosenthal’s article was published, Avila declined to comment to the Free Press’ Evan Petzold. There aren’t many baseball reporters better than Rosenthal, but with all due respect, beat writers ask different questions about the teams they cover than national reporters do.

And that’s what this feels like it’s coming down to: Parsing language so that everyone can save face and avoid the appearance of panic amid a disastrous season.

I recently wrote we should consider giving Hinch and Avila a mulligan for this season based on all the injuries. I stand by that. Yes, the Tigers (29-45) have struggled in many ways throughout the organization, but injuries have been the dominant factor.

Perhaps in an attempt to match fans’ moods, Avila told Rosenthal repeatedly that he’s angry about the team’s struggles. I’m sure Avila knows they run regular “Fire Al” sales anywhere pitchforks and torches are sold. But lately the sentiment about Hinch and Avila seem to run somewhere between “Meh” and “Sorry, I stopped paying attention. Oh, yeah. … Meh.” And it’s a little surprising people have given up on Hinch so quickly.

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The promise the Tigers showed last season under Hinch has almost entirely dissipated, so it makes sense, on some level, for fans to have cooled on the guy who was supposed to bring the organization back into playoff contention. Instead, the Tigers are on pace for 63 wins and Hinch had a lowly .449 winning percentage as Detroit’s manager.

So maybe some might think an opt-out clause in Hinch’s contract wouldn’t be the worst thing.

But where do you go from there? Even if Hinch left, which promising managerial candidate is going to jump into this situation? Maybe a wunderkind? Maybe a retread? Maybe another placeholder? Two years of a Avila/Hinch/ regime — 236 games after Wednesday, actually — is too small a sample size to bail on so quickly, even if it feels like the rebuild has been going on forever.

The Tigers return from their West Coast trip to start a brutal gauntlet of 19 games in 17 days without a break, all against American League Central opponents. I’d like to say this is an opportunity for the Tigers — that if they’re going to do something, if they’re going to be anything, this is the time and the moment.

But I have a hard time believing they will. Anyone would. Frankly, we’ve seen too much by now. I just wish we could have had heard just as much directly from Avila and Hinch and could get more clarity and transparency about their futures during these uncertain times for the Tigers.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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