Robbie Grossman played only one season for A.J. Hinch in Houston in 2015, but the outfielder has a ton of respect for the former Astros manager. So when the new Tigers skipper talked with him about coming to Detroit, Grossman listened.
“I talked to him a few times. He let me know the direction you guys are going in,” Grossman said on a Wednesday afternoon video conference with reporters. “I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s done and how he goes about his business and just being a Tiger.”
Hinch’s involvement was the reflection of what Grossman called an “aggressive” recruitment of the free agent, culminating Tuesday in a two-year, $10 million contract. It’s the first multi-year deal the Tigers have finalized with a free agent since Justin Upton’s deal in January 2016. Hinch, Grossman said, was a “huge reason” he decided to sign.
“We caught up and we talked a little bit about the team and our needs and going forward,” Grossman said. “And I’m all on board. I’m ready to get started and ready to get down to Lakeland.”
It’s not just familiarity. In many ways, Grossman fits the blueprint of how Hinch wants to improve a Tigers lineup that has led the league in strikeouts the last two years while struggling to draw walks. He brings the kind of tenacious at-bats Hinch has referenced multiple times since his hire on Oct. 30.
Grossman’s .252 career batting average doesn’t stand out, and his .241 average last year certainly doesn’t. But his 21 walks in 51 games bumped up his on-base percentage to .344, while his eight home runs and 12 doubles in the abbreviated season resulted in a 130 OPS+.
“My ultimate goal is to have a quality at-bat, whether that’s getting a hit, walking, hit-by-pitch or hitting a home run,” he said. “There’s quality at-bats in baseball and there’s bad at-bats, and the more quality at-bats you have, the better off you are every night of winning a game.”
He’s a different hitter than the one many might remember from his three years in Minnesota from 2016-18. His uptick in power was a reflection of pulling the ball more often, something he credits A’s hitting coach Darren Bush and former Astros teammate Jed Lowrie with helping him achieve.
“He came to me,” Grossman said of Bush, “and said, ‘Hey, we’ve seen how much you put into this. We know the kind of player you want to be. Here’s what you need to do to become who you want to be.’
“He really broke it down to the simplest thing for me. I had to use my legs more. I had to stay more balanced at the plate. I had to make my hands go linear to center field. And I kind of just ran with it. I want to be the best Major Leaguer I can be, and I continue to grow and continue to stay and learn as much as I can, soak up as much as I can to become that.”
While the Tigers made pitching their priority in this free-agent market, signing José Ureña last month, they quietly checked into the outfield market early on. Grossman was one of the outfielders at the top of their list, a 31-year-old switch-hitter with a track record but also with upside coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
He didn’t face the Tigers last year, but he has a good amount of success against them. He’s 8-for-27 with two home runs and six RBIs off new teammate Matthew Boyd, who reached out to him with a text message Tuesday night to welcome him to Detroit.
Grossman has also played enough at Comerica Park to know what an atmosphere it can be when the team’s going well.
“My family’s been to Detroit many times. I know what the team means to that city,” he said.
Put it all together, and Grossman was sold.
“They were very aggressive in letting me know that I was a guy that they really wanted,” Grossman said, “and that meant a lot to me. … It’s a privilege to be a six-plus-year free agent, and that the Tigers had that much confidence in me, and they proved it. Now it’s my job to go out there and earn it every day.”