Astros Hire Deemed The Worst

The Worst Manager in a decade: A.J. Hinch gets a damning report, but Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is unfazed

The Worst Manager in a decade: Astros A.J. Hinch gets a damning report

AJ Hinch Astros
A.J. Hinch takes over as the Houston Astros manager touting the team's promise, but a damning report from the past may haunt him. Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
Jeff Luhnow, Gina Luhnow Astros Wives
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is clearly comfortable with A.J. Finch. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
George Springer still
How George Springer returns from leg injuries will determine plenty about the Houston Astros future. Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images
AJ Hinch Astros
Jeff Luhnow, Gina Luhnow Astros Wives
George Springer still

A.J. Hinch comes out saying all the right things as the Houston Astros new manager.  He harps about winning, talks about wanting to shock the world and even works a nifty compliment about Jose Altuve into his introductory press conference.

But a report from his past may haunt Hinch as he tries to guide the Astros into their future.

A high-level baseball executive told CSN Chicago reporter David Kaplan that Hinch is "one of the worst managers that he has evaluated over the past decade" when the Chicago Cubs were considering Hinch for their managerial opening last October. Hinch didn't get the Cubs job then, but he has the Astros one now.

 Luhnow and the Astros are once again all in, betting that they're smarter than almost everyone else in baseball. Did you really expect anything else? 

This harsh criticism of Hinch's skills is based on what the new Astros manager did in his stint as the Arizona Diamondbacks manager in 2009 and 2010. Hinch went 89-123 in parts of two seasons — and he apparently left a stink in the desert in the minds of some baseball insiders.

"Perhaps no candidate that I have called about has evoked more negative response than Hinch with most everyone I spoke with, believing the Cubs would be making a major mistake hiring him," Kaplan wrote in arguing that the Cubs should avoid Hinch.

Luhnow surely had to know about the report. Hinch says the Astros "called just about every person I ever met" in vetting him. Once again, Luhnow and the Astros seem to be going against the baseball establishment in hiring Hinch.

It's the type of move that could be brilliant. Or a disaster. These Luhnow Astros do not do boring and safe. And there's plenty to be said for that.

Luhnow is clearly comfortable with Hinch in ways he never was with Bo Porter, a promising young manager who never received a real chance to succeed in Houston. Luhnow talks about important it is for the GM and manager to be on the same page — and it's undoubtedly even more vital when you're often going against baseball's often tired, old thinking like the Astros of Luhnow almost always are.

"I trust him," Luhnow says of Hinch.

This manager hire confirms what became apparent when Porter was fired: Jeff Luhnow holds all the real power in owner Jim Crane's organization. The Astros are going to rise or fall based on Luhnow's vision. It makes sense to have a manager who is all in on it. Luhnow and the 40-year-old Hinch have known each other since 2006. Luhnow is clearly excited that his new manager has player development and front office experience (Hinch most recently worked as the assistant GM in San Diego).

And like St. Louis Cardinals manager — and Luhnow favorite — Mike Matheny, Hinch is a former Major League catcher.

"It's important," Luhnow says of a general manager and manager being on the same page. "These are demanding jobs and we're in a fish bowl."

Sitting there in the bowels of Minute Maid Park, the day after another losing season ended, Luhnow almost sounds like he's got his old bravado back.

"I think A.J. is going to be the manager here when we win the World Series," Luhnow says.

Give this to Luhnow: He knows how to deliver sound clips. Whether he can deliver on his vision and add the right Major League talent around the young core in the Astros system remains to be seen. Hinch is rightly excited to have this second chance at managing despite his doubters (Luhnow turned Hinch down himself in 2012 when he hired Porter). He is Luhnow's guy now though — a fellow analytics devotee moving into the dugout. Hinch brings his wife Erin to the intro press conference and he ends up sounding a lot like Luhnow at times.

 The Astros are going to rise or fall based on Luhnow's vision. It makes sense to have a manager who is all in on it. 

"I want to bring a championship to the city of Houston," Hinch says.

Whatever mistakes he made in the Arizona clubhouse as a 34-year-old, first-time manager, Hinch is smart enough to know he needs Altuve, the newly crowned batting champion, on his side.

When the new guy is asked about making mistakes in baseball, he replies: "You're not going to bat a thousand. Altuve tried."

Well played. Words in a low-stress press conference aren't going to erase that damning report tagging Hinch as one of the worst managers of the decade though. Neither is the belief of Luhnow, who's turned into something of a baseball iconoclast through his summer stumbles.

Luhnow and the Astros are once again all in, betting that they're smarter than almost everyone else in baseball. Did you really expect anything else?