'Best man for this job': Tigers name A.J. Hinch their new manager

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DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers Friday officially made 46-year-old A.J. Hinch the 39th manager in club history, signing him to a three-year contract.

“I’d like to thank 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 released by the team. “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.”

General manager Al Avila tabbed Hinch as a strong candidate almost immediately after Ron Gardenhire resigned on Sept. 19, that despite the fact that Hinch was serving a year-long suspension for his involvement in the Houston Astros 2017 sign-stealing scandal.

“Coming into this managerial search we already knew that A.J.’s diverse baseball acumen, knowledge of analytics and passion for the game were second to none,” Avila said. “However, we also knew there were some important conversations to have about A.J.’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 A.J. is the best man for this job as we strive to bring a World Series Championship back to the city of Detroit.”

Major League Baseball’s exhaustive investigation of the Astros’ sign-stealing methods revealed that Hinch neither sanctioned nor approved of his players using a replay monitor to decode signs and twice he destroyed video monitors with a bat.

He was suspended for his failure to stop his players from cheating and he took full accountability for that.

“Throughout the interview process it was clear that A.J. had learned from his situation in recent months, and it has changed him in profound ways,” Ilitch said. “Quite frankly, it’s exactly what we wanted and needed to hear. A.J. provides a wealth of knowledge and experience, and we’re proud to have him lead our team.”

Hinch played for the Tigers in 2003.

“My feelings towards baseball are the same that so many Detroiters have for this team,” Hinch said. “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.”

He’ll be taking over a Tigers’ team very nearly in the same stage of reconstruction as was the Astros team he took over in 2015, a team that had lost more than 400 games in four years.

He led the Astros to a World Series title two years later. Hinch’s Astros won 481 games, went to the postseason four straight years and won two pennants.

He checks other boxes the Tigers were looking for, as well. He was ahead of the analytics curve in his years in Houston, but his background is steeped in player development and scouting. He was the director of player development for the Diamondbacks before being hired to manage them in 2009.

And from 2010-14 he served as vice president of pro scouting for the Padres, and there one of his top scouts and best friends was Scott Bream, who is now the Tigers’ vice president of player personnel.

Hinch also has a degree in psychology from Stanford and played parts of seven seasons in the big leagues, including 27 games with the Tigers in 2003.

Alex Cora is expected to be re-hired by the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers expected to have to battle the Chicago White Sox for Hinch’s services. But on Thursday, the White Sox announced the hiring of 76-year-old Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, no doubt hastening the process between the Tigers and Hinch.

Avila interviewed a long list of candidates before Thursday. The list includes Lloyd McClendon and Dave Clark from Gardenhire’s staff, Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames, Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol, Cubs third base coach Will Venable, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez and Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, Athletics quality control coach Mark Kotsay, Braves coach Sal Fasano, Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza and Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin.

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A.J. Hinch managerial record

Arizona Diamondbacks

2009: 58-75 (.436)

2010: 31-48 (.392)

Houston Astros

2015: 86-76 (.531) — Lost ALDS vs. Royals

2016: 84-78 (.519)

2017: 101-61 (.623) — Won World Series vs. Dodgers

2018: 103-59 (.636) — Lost ALCS vs. Red Sox

2019: 107-55 (.660) — Lost World Series vs. Nationals

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