The Tigers are in the market for a new manager after Ron Gardenhire announced his retirement on the heels of a 16-year managerial career. Asked at today’s end-of-year meeting with Tigers beat writers, general manager Al Avila confirmed that former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and former Red Sox skipper Alex Cora are on what the Tigers expect to be a lengthy list of initial candidates (Twitter link via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News).
Both Hinch and Cora lost their jobs in the wake of the investigation in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal. Hinch oversaw the team that orchestrated that sign-stealing scheme, while Cora, the club’s bench coach that season, was listed as one of the architects of the entire operation in commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the investigation.
Manfred suspended Hinch until January 2021, and Astros owner Jim Crane fired him less than an hour after the league announced the findings of its investigation. Cora, meanwhile, had already moved on to become the manager of the Red Sox by the time the Astros scandal had come to light. That didn’t stop the Red Sox from firing him, however, even with Boston’s 2018 World Series win barely in the rear-view mirror.
Of course, that 2018 team was similarly investigated by the league for additional sign-stealing improprieties. The league’s investigation into the Sox deemed their transgressions to be less severe, pinning advance scout/replay coordinator J.T. Watkins as the primary offender. Cora was suspended by Manfred through the 2020 postseason, although the commissioner made clear that that was for his role in the Astros’ scandal — not due to anything that transpired with the Red Sox. Said Manfred in announcing his findings from the Red Sox investigation: “Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.”
It was and still is rather baffling that Cora, who was at or near the center of both scandals, was banned from the game for a lesser period of time than either Hinch or former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow (who was also suspended by Manfred through January and fired by Crane). His role in the Houston scheme was clearly more hands on, but even if he wasn’t involved in the Red Sox’ violations, he’d seemingly be guilty of negligence.
What’s done is done regarding the suspension, and the shorter punishment would ostensibly allow Cora to be formally hired at any point after the World Series. It’s less clear how things would work with Hinch, who isn’t formally eligible for reinstatement until Jan. 13, 2021. Perhaps the Tigers could interview him but not officially hire him until his date of eligibility. It seems doubtful that they’d put their entire search on hold until he’s eligible to be reinstated, as doing so could cost them the opportunity to talk to other candidates of interest. Getting the manager on boarded early in the offseason is always preferable, though, and it doesn’t seem possible to do that with Hinch
It’s easy to focus on Hinch and Cora, of course, given their recent ties to high-profile cheating scandals that shook the sport to its core. But they’ll be just two of many candidates to whom the Tigers speak, and there’s nothing to indicate that either is somehow a preferred option.
Shedding a bit of light into the Tigers’ process for identifying candidates, Avila indicated that he’d consider both veteran managers and rookie skippers — but only those who have coached elsewhere in the Majors or managed in the minors (Twitter link via Jason Beck of MLB.com). Former players who lack coaching/managerial experience will not be considered.
The Tigers went that route in 2015 when they hired Brad Ausmus, just as the Cardinals had done a couple years prior with Mike Matheny. Since that time, Craig Counsell (Brewers), Aaron Boone (Yankees), David Ross (Cubs) and Carlos Beltran (Mets) have each hired former players who lack coaching experience. (Beltran, of course, was dismissed before managing a game as yet another ripple effect from the Astros’ 2017 scandal). Early interviews will be conducted primarily via Zoom, but the Tigers will eventually interview their finalists in person.