In a whirlwind span of 24 hours, things flipped from unlikely to reality. The Detroit Tigers announced the hiring of A.J. Hinch as their new manager on Friday afternoon. The former Houston Astros skipper becomes the 39th manager in Tigers history.
Hinch has been presumed the most desirable target for general manager Al Avila all along. His player development experience and track record of hiring effective coaching staffs, coupled with his tenure managing one of the most progressive, data-driven clubs in the game, make him the perfect fit to help lead a modernizing Tigers club back to contention in the years to come.
As a result of Hinch’s year-long suspension for the Astros sign-stealing scandal, the club couldn’t even interview him until the World Series ended. Those interviews finally occurred on Thursday, and with the Chicago White Sox taking themselves out of the running by hiring Tony La Russa instead, the path was clear for a deal to be concluded quickly.
The Detroit Tigers today named A.J. Hinch as the 39th manager in franchise history, agreeing to terms on a multi-year contract. pic.twitter.com/AHALJU1wGw— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) October 30, 2020
The 46-year-old Hinch has plenty of work ahead of him, both on the field and off. He takes over a club mired in a slow motion rebuild, having posted the worst record in baseball over the last four seasons. They needed someone steeped in the processes of a modern, data-based front office who also has a proven ability to put together a strong coaching staff capable of developing players. The road back to contention is still likely a long one, but from a competitive standpoint, the Tigers couldn’t have asked for a better fit than Hinch.
However, the new skipper obviously comes with a lot of baggage. While Hinch has served his punishment, plenty around the game are displeased to see him re-enter the managerial ranks so quickly. More relevant to the Tigers, is his ability to speak to the subject directly and make a convincing case that he can sail a clean ship, while understanding that forgiveness will be slow in coming from some quarters of the baseball world. He’s going to have to work to earn the trust of his players and the fanbase, but odds seem good that he ultimately will be able to put his part in the scandal behind him.
Questions will remain about his leadership and judgment, but Hinch is going to have an opportunity to help the Tigers build something from the ground floor in Detroit. Should they be successful, the very nature of the project could provide a redemptive arc to his career in ways that taking over a postseason ready contender would not.
In the end, the Tigers were in no position to look this gift horse in the mouth. There are only 30 manager jobs in the game, but Hinch could’ve easily landed in a cozier situation in Chicago or Boston, or simply laid low waiting for a more attractive opportunity to open up in the years ahead. That he was even available to the Tigers is a bit of a fluke, and a coup for a general manager facing mounting pressure to dig the organization out of the league’s cellar.
Even an experienced manager can’t turn an organization around without talent, as his predecessor Ron Gardenhire illustrated. However, Hinch brings with him a unique combination of experience, youth, and modern baseball savvy that the Detroit Tigers sorely need in their efforts to catch up with the more innovative and successful teams in the league. Whether he deserves it or not, Hinch now has the opportunity to help rebuild not only the Tigers, but also his own damaged reputation.