Former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch's season-long suspension stemming from Houston's sign-stealing scandal concluded when the World Series ended on Tuesday night. It didn't take much time for him to reach an agreement on a new job, either.
Hinch, 46, talked with the Detroit Tigers on Thursday about their managerial vacancy and was announced as their new manager on Friday, the team announced. He received a multi-year contract. Detroit's interest in Hinch didn't come as a surprise; general manager Al Avila acknowledged that Hinch and former Red Sox skipper Alex Cora, ousted as part of the sign-stealing scandal's aftermath, were "on my list" in early October.
"I'd like to thank (owner) Chris Ilitch and Al Avila for giving me a chance and the opportunity to get back in the dugout to lead this historic ballclub," Hinch said in a statement. "The last year was the most difficult of my life. It gave me time to reflect, which was such a big part of this process. Everything that has transpired over the past year, personally and professionally, has put so much in perspective for me, and re-enforced how important it is to do things with integrity and honesty.
"My feelings towards baseball are the same that so many Detroiters have for this team," Hinch added. "Through thick and thin you always care about it and rely on it to be there as a part of your life, and I'm so proud to play a role in growing that tradition here with the Tigers. Having a talented young core of players, dedicated leadership group and passionate fan base was exactly what I was looking for in a team, and it's clear we have that here in Detroit. It's time to start playing winning baseball, and I am confident this organization is positioned to make that happen."
Hinch spent five years at the helm in Houston, winning 59.4 percent of his regular-season games and a pair of American League pennants. The Astros also won the 2017 World Series under his watch, and recorded three consecutive 100-plus-win seasons. Prior to joining the Astros, Hinch managed the Diamondbacks (2009-10) and was assistant general manager with the Padres (2011-14). Hinch played seven years in the big leagues from 1998-2004, including 27 games with the Tigers in 2003.
"Coming into this managerial search we already knew that AJ's diverse baseball acumen, knowledge of analytics and passion for the game were second to none," Avila said in a statement. "However, we also knew there were some important conversations to have about AJ's time in Houston. Throughout that dialogue he was clearly remorseful and used that time to reflect on the situation, and we believe he will emerge as a better leader because of it. This ballclub is entering an extremely exciting period, with young players primed and ready to make an impact at the Major League level. I'm confident AJ is the best man for this job as we strive to bring a World Series Championship back to the city of Detroit."
Ilitch added: "On behalf of all of us with the Tigers, I'd like to welcome AJ and his family back to the Detroit community. Throughout the interview process it was clear that AJ had learned from his situation in recent months, and it has changed him in profound ways. Quite frankly, it's exactly what we wanted and needed to hear. AJ provides a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we're proud to have him lead our team. Additionally, I'd like to commend Al Avila and his staff on conducting a thorough and professional search process and know that they landed on the right person to be our manager. Tigers fans have high expectations for their baseball team, and all of us in the organization are confident that today's announcement is a big step towards returning to the on-field success they deserve."
In the eyes of MLB, Hinch has served his punishment and is considered to be in good standing. Whether Hinch has expressed enough contrition for his part in the Astros' scandal is to be debated -- remember, his idea of putting an end to things was to smash a pair of television monitors -- but those who find his apology wanting could, at least, take solace in knowing that our Dayn Perry ranked the Tigers' job as the worst of those available. Here's what Perry wrote:
The Tigers have endured four straight losing seasons and aren't far removed from a 114-loss campaign in 2019. While they were more respectable in 2020, the bar for recent success is quite low. If you're the new manager, however, that low bar is actually a good thing. What's also a good thing is the young pitching situation. Casey Mize has the wherewithal to be a future frontline starter, and Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning also have strong potential as long-term members of the Detroit rotation. On the hitting front, Spencer Torkelson, the top overall pick of the 2020 draft, should move very quickly through the system and could be in place at some point next season. He has tremendous potential with the bat and is the kind of hitter around which lineups are built. Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron are also top-50 or so prospects and should be core contributors on the next relevant Tigers team. For that to happen soon, though, the Tigers will need to hit on most of these names, and their recent player-development track record is at least questionable. Sharing a division with the White Sox, Twins, and pitching-factory Indians also isn't optimal. That said, there's young talent in place and family ownership that takes winning seriously when it's feasible.
The White Sox also filled their vacancy on Thursday by hiring Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. It's worth noting that Hinch spoke to the White Sox but was not interviewed during their search, ESPN's Jeff Passan reports. Now that Hinch and Detroit have come to terms, it leaves the Red Sox as the lone team with a managerial job available.
The Tigers went 23-35 in 2020 and finished in last place in the AL Central. They hold the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft, their fourth straight year with a top five draft selection. Detroit has not won even 40 percent of their games in a single season since 2016.
Ron Gardenhire, who had previously held the Tigers managerial position, retired in September because of medical concerns.