HOUSTON -- When it came to checking the boxes of what the Astros wanted from their next manager, A.J. Hinch filled many of them. He has a vast tool set as a former big league player and former Major League manager, and he even spent time as a club's vice
HOUSTON -- When it came to checking the boxes of what the Astros wanted from their next manager, A.J. Hinch filled many of them. He has a vast tool set as a former big league player and former Major League manager, and he even spent time as a club's vice president and assistant general manager.
The 40-year-old Hinch on Monday was given perhaps the most important challenge yet of his career when the Astros -- in a news conference at Minute Maid Park the day after the season ended -- tabbed him to be the 18th manager in their history.
"The goal is to win championships," Hinch said after slipping on a No. 14 jersey. "The arrow is turning toward success in talking about winning a little bit and talking about the ultimate goal. I'm proud to be here. To wear this orange and blue is something I cherish, and to put this uniform on and be called the 'Skipper' is something I'm very privileged to be."
Hinch managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from May 2009 until July 2010, compiling an 89-123 record, and he was the vice president of professional scouting and assistant GM of the Padres (2011-14), a run that ended in August. He came highly recommended to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.
"I've known A.J. for a long time -- he's got a lot of passion for this game and he's got a passion for winning," Luhnow said. "He very well understands what it is we're doing here, and I couldn't be happier with our choice. I think A.J. is going to be the manager who's here when we win the World Series."
Astros owner Jim Crane sat among the media at the news conference, along with several members of his ownership group, who clapped in approval of Hinch's message.
"We're very excited about A.J.," Crane said. "He really touches all the bases, has had all of the jobs. ... He's got a great resume, he's a smart guy and we felt he understands what Jeff's trying to do and the communication between them will be very good."
A breakdown in communication between Luhnow and former manager Bo Porter led to Porter's dismissal on Sept. 1 after less than two years on the job. Hinch was one of 10 candidates the Astros considered, and in an effort to get the hire right, Luhnow spoke to as many people as he could about Hinch.
"Communication is critical in any department, for any business," Luhnow said. "There's no doubt that A.J. and I are off to a good start communicating, and we're going to continue that. It's also communication with the rest of the organization, communication with the players and a lot of the research that I did about A.J.'s communication skills with players, his ability to connect with players and staff, and I felt very good about what I was hearing. So I think that, combined with our communication, is going to put him in a position to be very successful."
Hinch graduated from Stanford, where he was a third-round Draft pick after his junior year. He won a bronze medal with the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In his Major League career as a catcher, Hinch hit .219 with 32 homers and 112 RBIs in 350 games.
Hinch, who lives in San Diego with his wife, Erin, and daughters Haley (12) and Kaitlin (9), will spend the next few days in Houston working with Luhnow. One of their first tasks will be putting together a Major League coaching staff.
Pitching coach Brent Strom is under contract and expected to return, and hitting coach John Mallee appears on solid footing. Third-base coach Pat Listach is as respected as anyone in baseball and interviewed for the manager's job. The status of first-base coach Tarrick Brock is up in the air.
"We're going to start to talk about assembling the big league staff," Luhnow said.
The fact that Hinch has such a dynamic background in the game made him very appealing to the Astros, who interviewed him for the job two years ago. In addition to playing parts of seven seasons in the Major Leagues with Oakland (1998-2000), Kansas City (2001-02), Detroit (2003) and Philadelphia (2004), Hinch was director of player development for the D-backs before being hired as their manager in 2009 at age 34.
Hinch managed Arizona for parts of the 2009 and '10 seasons before moving on to San Diego, where he oversaw all aspects of the club's professional scouting and medical departments, while assisting with roster composition, player acquisition, talent evaluation and contract negotiations.
"He's had all of those experiences," Luhnow said. "I think that's helped. I like the well-roundedness of A.J., the fact he has worked in a front office in various capacities. He understands my perspective, because he's done my job. He understands the perspective of [farm director] Quentin [McCracken] because he's been a farm director. He knows what it takes to go out and find a player, to scout a player, to get a player into the system and move him through and get him to the big leagues.
"He's been there when a lot of the Arizona Diamondbacks' young prospects got there and helped shepherd them through the system, and he knows our system pretty well. ... He comes in with this breadth of experience that just very few candidates have. We have a lot of guys out there who have had the experience or have played, but the whole combination, the whole package for us was really good."
Hinch inherits an Astros team coming off a 70-92 season that saw them post their best record in four seasons. While the arrival of George Springer, the emergence of pitchers Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel and having a batting champion in second baseman Jose Altuve give Hinch reason for optimism, he knows there's plenty of work ahead.
"This is about players, this is about front office, this is about the coaching staff all playing their part in this big puzzle in getting more wins than your opponent," Hinch said. "It takes close to 90 wins to get to where you're trying to get to, and to watch these teams celebrate last week, if that doesn't get you burning a little bit to taste that champagne a little bit, that, to me, is the essence of why we do this.
"We do this to win. I believe we can do it. I trust the people bringing the talent in to the organization, and we've got a chance to do something with the hard work and dedication that I feel with the Houston Astros."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.