The Detroit Tigers announced AJ Hinch as the team’s new manager Friday, jumpstarting a fresh era of the rebuild, which general manager Al Avila is now describing to his staffers as a “building stage,” with top prospects ready to emerge.
Hinch signed his contract with the Tigers around 1:15 p.m. and was introduced at 2 p.m. In the age of COVID-19, he fielded questions over a video conference call from Comerica Park.
For subscribers: Four things Detroit Tigers’ A.J. Hinch must do now that he’s manager
The 46-year-old has a career 570-452 managerial record in parts of seven seasons with the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks from 2009-19.
Here are three things we learned from Hinch’s introductory news conference.
A true professional
Hinch comes to the Tigers with major baggage. He is fresh off a year-long suspension from MLB for his role in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing plot, which led to a World Series championship. His hire comes with scrutiny, and rightfully so. He didn’t stop the actions led by his bench coach, Alex Cora, and a slew of players. While Hinch wasn’t an active participant, he simply looked the other way.
He admits his punishment was deserved.
If Hinch wanted to jab at Cora and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, the masterminds behind the cheating, this was his biggest stage to do so. He took the high road in an MLB Network interview in February with Tom Verducci. On Friday, he did the same —no snarky comments, no jokes and not a peep about the involvement of anyone other than himself.
And he was apologetic. Numerous times.
“I’m sorry that today that has to be a topic, and I understand why,” Hinch said. “This is such an exciting day for me and such an exciting day for the Tigers. But they’re real conversations when you get in these positions, and I talked to both of these men (Avila and owner Christopher Ilitch) and many other people in the organization throughout the process. They were very thorough. We all arrived at a partnership that we feel is going to take Tiger baseball into winning ways.”
Hinch is going to have to tackle these questions on a regular basis for the next few months, and maybe into the 2021 season, but he proved in his first news conference that he’s willing to take on these questions with an understanding he still has to earn trust.
Verlander back to Detroit?
It’s no secret. Former AL MVP and two-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander loves Detroit. As a Tiger from 2005-17, he won the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year award, pitched the franchise to a pair of World Series appearances, got one of his two Cy Young awards and two of his three no-hitters.
Detroit is Verlander’s baseball home.
The Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros, whom Hinch managed from 2015-19, for a trio of prospects in August 2017, igniting the franchise’s roster teardown. Verlander’s 2020 season was limited to one start because of Tommy John surgery, which is likely to cost him all of the 2021 season.
Oh yeah, he becomes a free agent after next season.
Hinch said he has a “great relationship” with Verlander, who texted his former manager Friday morning to rave about “what Detroit is like when the team is winning.”
“There’s no place like it,” Verlander said to him, according to Hinch.
The idea of a Verlander-Tigers reunion makes sense, especially if Verlander is willing to take a pay cut to return to the organization where he built much of his Hall of Fame resume. And with Hinch on board as the manager, it seems quite possible.
Imagine this rotation: Verlander, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. Toss in a top-dollar free-agent signing and the Tigers’ rotation could be dominant for the 2022 season.
Could Hinch haunt ChiSox?
The Chicago White Sox — regardless of whether their manager was Hinch or 76-year-old Tony La Russa — have a heck of a team: Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. Their rotation includes standouts such as Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Dane Dunning.
There aren’t many weak spots, but the roster needs a bit of seasoning from a top-notch manager. Hinch seemed to be the perfect fit. Except the White Sox landed on La Russa in a decision obviously forced by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who fired La Russa in 1986 to the manager’s benefit and the White Sox’s detriment.
Does it make any sense? No, other than fixing a 34-year-old mistake.
What’s even more confusing, however, is that the White Sox didn’t even reach out to Hinch. They handed him to the Tigers.
“You’d have to ask the White Sox where they were,” Hinch said. “I never interviewed with the White Sox. Originally, those were the two managerial jobs, plus Boston, that were open. I had two teams that were interested, and I just knew they were interested. When the World Series ended, Al called, and I got on a plane not really knowing what was next.
“And, the White Sox, I never interviewed. I’m not sure what their process was or what their thought process was.”
If La Russa doesn’t work out and the Tigers leap over him and the ChiSox in the American League Central, White Sox fans will never forget this. The events of the past three days have the potential to change the hierarchy within the division for years.