The Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila bided his time for four weeks, interviewing up to a dozen candidates, before finally getting a chance to formally talk to former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
Now he doesn’t appear to be wasting any time in getting a deal done.
The Tigers have identified Hinch as their top target and have made “substantial progress” on a deal, MLB.com reported Thursday night.
If the deal is finalized on Friday, it would come just 48 hours after the expiration of Hinch’s season-long suspension for his role in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred determined that the Astros devised an illegal system to steal signs and relay the information to batters before pitches. His report said that although Hinch did not create the sign-stealing scheme and at times tried to discourage it, he never took decisive action to end it.
After Manfred’s report was released in January, the Astros parted ways with Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
Hinch, 46, played for four teams from 1998-2004, mainly as a backup catcher, including a brief stint with the Tigers in 2003. He joined the Diamondbacks front office after the 2005 season and was named manager in 2008, at the age of 34, despite never having coached or managed a team at any level. He was fired during the 2010 season. Hinch worked in the Padres’ front office from 2010-14. He managed the Astros from 2015-2019, making the playoffs four times, winning the AL pennant twice and winning the World Series in 2017.
The Tigers interviewed at least 11 other candidates before the conclusion of the World Series, including Atlanta Braves catching instructor Sal Fasano; Oakland Athletics quality control coach Mark Kotsay; New York Yankees coaches Phil Nevin, Carlos Mendoza and Marcus Thames; Chicago Cubs third base coach Will Venable; Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Don Kelly; Kansas City Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol; Los Angeles Dodgers first base coach George Lombard; and two internal candidates, Tigers bench coach and interim manager Lloyd McClendon and first base coach Dave Clark.
The Tigers have been searching for a new manager since Ron Gardenhire announced his retirement near the end of the 2020 season.
The Tigers were one of three teams with a managerial vacancy this winter. The Chicago White Sox hired veteran manager Tony LaRussa on Thursday, while the Boston Red Sox are still searching for a new skipper.
Alex Cora, who managed the Red Sox in 2018 and 2019 after serving as Hinch’s bench coach at Houston in 2017, is thought to be a candidate to return to Boston. Like Hinch, Cora’s suspension for his role in the scandal expired after the World Series.