Over five years as manager of the Astros, A.J. Hinch led the club to three division titles, two American League pennants and the 2017 World Series title. Over his first three years in Detroit, the Tigers haven't sniffed the playoffs. They're starting to now.
"I love where we’re at," Hinch said this week, wrapping up the Tigers' best season in seven years. "And I said this to our team the day we were eliminated (from playoff contention), that I’ve never been more encouraged to be a Tiger."
The Tigers were a much better team this year than last. Low bar, of course, but the emergence of young hitters like Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter builds optimism that the club finally has a core worth building around. And in a division where the Tigers finished second with a record of 78-84 and weren't officially out of the race until there were nine games to go, there's hope that the club can break through in 2024.
It wasn't just in the big-leagues that the Tigers improved this season. Hinch felt the organization grow from top to bottom in year one under president of baseball operations Scott Harris. Hired in 2021 by former GM Al Avila, Hinch said this year felt "like my first year given the new boss structure, the new emphasis on different things coming into the organization and creating a relationship with the president of baseball ops to try to get us to contention."
"I’ve never been more encouraged here to be the manager," said Hinch, 49, whose contract with the Tigers reportedly runs through 2025. "I know these are not easy jobs to get, they’re not easy jobs to keep."
Hinch thrived in Houston with A) an extremely talented roster B) a forward-thinking front office C) an advanced scouting department and D) a deep well of analytical resources that he and his staff knew how to leverage to their advantage. He and Harris are trying to build something similar in Detroit.
"I’m especially proud of where we’re getting to with our players to where they understand me on a deeper level and the culture that we’re creating," said Hinch. "Those are really important things. But when it comes to being the Detroit Tigers manager, I’m thrilled, I’m proud, I’m honored and I know I have a lot of expectations on my part to be better. We’re not where we want to get to. We’re trying to get there as fast as possible.
"I hope that our fans, our front office, our ownership understand the positive step forward that we took on the field this year. Very important. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else."
Harris, likewise, said it was a "great first year" in his partnership with Hinch, crediting the manager for making him "better at this job" through their daily conversations about the direction of the team.
"The challenging conversations that we’ve had before and after every game, the moments in which he challenged me to think differently about our team, think differently about ways to get better, think differently about who to give opportunity to based on the different perspective he has in the clubhouse," said Harris. "Again, there are a lot of things to be proud of in this organization, and I’m very proud that we have the right field general leading our team."