Hinch frontrunner for Tigers job (sources)

October 30th, 2020

The Tigers brought in AJ Hinch as a defensive replacement at catcher for the final game of the 2003 season in which they avoided their 120th loss. Seventeen years later, he is poised to return with bigger aspirations.

Detroit is on the verge of hiring Hinch as its next manager after making substantial progress on a contract Thursday night, sources told MLB.com. An announcement could come as soon as Friday. The former Astros manager would replace Ron Gardenhire, who retired last month.

Multiple candidates who have interviewed for the job were told Thursday they’re now out of the running, according to sources. The Tigers have not confirmed the latest developments between Hinch and the club.

The negotiations on Thursday night finished a whirlwind day of courtship between the Tigers and Hinch, who wasn’t available to interview with any club until after the World Series ended Tuesday night. Hinch interviewed with the Tigers on Thursday in Detroit, then quickly moved into negotiations.

The Tigers spent the past four weeks interviewing a plethora of candidates for the chance to replace Gardenhire. They couldn’t talk to Hinch while he served his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball coming out of the Astros’ sign-stealing investigation. But Detroit’s interest has been clear since general manager Al Avila’s season-ending media session, when he confirmed that Hinch was on his list of candidates.

Hinch was expected to be a strong candidate to join the White Sox, who surprisingly parted ways with Rick Renteria after their postseason exit earlier this month. Once Chicago hired Tony La Russa on Thursday, Hinch and Detroit had mutual interest to move quickly.

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

Hinch played 27 games for the Tigers in 2003, after Detroit purchased his contract from Cleveland at the end of Spring Training. His manager in Detroit was Alan Trammell, currently a Tigers special assistant.

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 club 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.

The one question on Hinch's record will be the sign-stealing investigation, which determined that he neither participated in nor supported the sign stealing -- he damaged a monitor near the dugout twice to note his disapproval -- but he also didn’t stop it.

Avila acknowledged the issue with Hinch and Cora in his end-of-season remarks earlier this month, but he indicated that they’re paying their penalty.

“Obviously, the cheating scandal is not a good thing,” Avila said at the time. “They're serving their suspensions, and once the suspensions are over, they'll be free to continue their careers.”

The appeal for Hinch would be 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 Casey 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.