Winter Meetings interview with A.J. Hinch

    Q. What's it like being at the Winter Meetings in this role that you're now in?

            A.J. HINCH:  I was joking with Jeff earlier, there's a little less stress in this chair at this time of year now. It will get turned up during the year. But the Winter Meetings is obviously very fun. It's a ton optimism around, a ton of activity buzzing, a lot of rumors to shoot down. But it's neat to be back in San Diego, obviously, from my immediate previous job, but also in this role you see the Winter Meetings in a whole new perspective and a little less stress. So I'm enjoying it.

            Q. How much better prepared do you feel you are to be manager than you were with the D‑backs?

            A.J. HINCH:  Well, to pay tribute to my former Midwest city alum, I'm a man, I'm 40. Mike Gundy coined that phrase. So I'll use it as a former Oklahoman.

            I do feel more prepared. The ups and downs in this job will teach you a lot along the way. I think any experience you have, good or bad, is good experience. I go from being one of the youngest managers when I took over in Arizona to now maybe not as much of an outlier. There's a younger one, like last week. So I feel old and experienced.

            Q. Have you had a day to prepare?

            A.J. HINCH:  Just from day one, I think going through the interview process. I've been through a couple of manager interviews. It's apples and oranges when it comes toward the entry towards this job this time around. And your preparedness. I've got six years of life experience and baseball experience to use at my discretion now on this job.

            Q. What would you tell Kevin Cash?

            A.J. HINCH:  I would tell him he's going to gray up a little bit over the course of the next couple of years.

            He's a former catcher. We have catcher bias. I'd tell him to enjoy every minute. I will tell you that the responsibility in this job is unlike any other job. I mean, it's obviously ‑‑ the GM job is enormous. The amount of carrying a whole organization around. But after that I think the manager job, whether it's dealing with players, dealing with staff, the front office, the media, it's a true management job that is exhilarating, it's fun, but it's also ‑‑ you're reminded every day during the season with a positive or negative, win or loss.

            I would tell Cash to enjoy every minute of it. Outside of playing, I'm not sure there's a better seat in the house than the manager's seat.

            Q. Last year the team went into opening day without a closer. I guess one probably developed a month or two in. Would you want to close on opening day?

            A.J. HINCH:  I think that's a good question. First off, we're going to be linked to just about every reliever that will throw a Major League pitch this year. There's no doubt that's been a priority since day one to add to the bullpen. The perfect world you do have sort of bona fide roles. I think it's been shown to be successful. Your personnel has to match that.

            I think building any sort of prerequisite idea as to how to use your players, until you really know your personnel, it's going to be hard to say I prefer one or the other. I do believe in utilizing your personnel to the best of their abilities. Now, if that means we have a bona fide closer and you have sort of a routine as who gets the ball with the lead and who doesn't, or whether we're matching up a little bit more, time will tell.

            Q. You need help with the corner, first, and third, how do you balance bringing somebody in, and not stealing too many men on Singleton?

            A.J. HINCH:  You have to earn your bats in the Big Leagues. But I do believe in ‑‑ it's a tough balance trying to find the right number of at‑bats for younger players. Some of these guys aren't as young as maybe some people believe.

            You want to create an environment where people trust you, where you know they have your back and they're behind you. You have to hold the standard pretty high at this level, because there's more on the way. How to strike that balance is the essence of this job as a manager. When we get to camp there will be plenty of competition. I think there are plenty of guys on the team that come in with a little more leeway, so we'll play that as it comes.

            Q. You had that bullpen by committee in Arizona. It didn't work real well.

            A.J. HINCH:  I remember that.

            It depends on the personnel. Again, I think that's the ‑‑ look, there's no doubt that the fastest way to turn a team around is winning games that you're ahead. Demoralizing a team with blown leads are difficult.

            Now on the flip side of it, if you have a shutdown team and you can't score runs, that's not a great way to live, either.

            In a perfect world there are no bumps in the road and we just go about it the way, routinely like baseball predicts. But we know that's not going to happen.

            Q. You said personnel. Where do you stand on that?

            A.J. HINCH:  That's what these meetings are for. I think Jeff has been very specific with the goal is to address the bullpen. This is also the time of year where you're going to get a lot of denials and a lot of, I can't talk about it. We can add to the bullpen. We have roles available. We also have a couple of guys coming back that are pretty good.

            So I stop short of saying it's a total revamp, because what Tony Sipp did, what Fields did, what Qualls can do, those are good building blocks, and we'll see how it maps out.

            Q. Specifically about Robertson?

            A.J. HINCH: I'm not going to talk specifics about any of the relievers.

            Q. This is a team that improved last year. What's the emphasis for this coming year, contending, improving?

            A.J. HINCH:  Exactly right. We've got to play 162. As much as that sounds like a cliché, the reality is at this level things can turn pretty quickly. I do believe in the positive steps forward that this team saw last year. Things that are fun to talk about. I will tell you that's still 20‑plus games shy of what it's going to take to get into the playoffs. Certainly the emphasis has to be more about winning, more about propelling ourselves forward.

            Now, where those additions come from, where the maturation of some of the young players, this isn't a perfect science as to how to put it all together. I expect our team to come out and want to win every day. You only celebrate 70 wins so much. That type of attitude downstairs in the clubhouse, when we show up every night we're going to put a team on the field we feel can beat the other that night.

            Q. Do you feel this is a team that can contend?

            A.J. HINCH:  You've got to play ‑‑ a season's length will tell you whether you can contend or not.

            So just when you think you know it all about this game you realize what you don't know. The teams are going to change. We're well aware of what Seattle and Texas and Oakland and Anaheim is doing in our division. I'm not sure you need to put limitations on teams. But, again, I think that's something for Spring Training, when we gel together as a group. This is the Big Leagues, there's 30 teams, and you want to see how you match up with them.

            Q. Any element of your outfield that's set. Can you say one player is a starter at that position?

            A.J. HINCH:  Again, this is early in the offseason to get too into the specifics. I have the luxury of inheriting a good outfield, a good defensive outfield, a productive offensive outfield. The ability of our guys ‑‑ we have at least four out of five that are bona fide center fielders. We've got other guys that play well in the corners. Obviously George, keeping him on the field for 162 is going to be a big key. Dexter is the elder statesman. Jake in that trade, he came over and made a good impression. Presley and Grossman. The depth of our outfield creates a great luxury. It also creates a little bit of uncertainty as to how we're going to map that out.

            I think you're going to ask me that again in February, when we get a little bit closer. We'll see, other than I love the makeup of our outfit.

            Q. Why did you want to come back and manage?

            A.J. HINCH:  I love the competition. I think this job is fascinating, how it interacts with players and how it interacts with the front office, the 27 outs on the field. When you take the uniform off as a player, it's hard to replace that competitiveness. It's hard to replace that life in the trenches.

            Certainly I think I got a taste of that in Arizona, the taste wasn't always great. I look forward to that new challenge again. But at heart I'm a field guy that wants to compete every single day. And at the end of the day you either win or you lose. And this is a fun job because of the players and the relationships you build.

            Q. Do you feel like you have something to prove?

            A.J. HINCH:  Something to prove? I think you've got something to prove every day in this job. It's hard. It's an easy way to talk about it because you ‑‑ there is a back of the baseball card, so to speak, of a guy who's managed before.

            But I hold myself to higher standards than anyone is going to hold me to. So I do feel good about the preparation, about the competitiveness, about what I'll bring to this job. And certainly because of that competitiveness there will be a little extra edge to me, and I'll do my best.

            Q. Have you done any recruiting for free agents? What do you think makes the Astros ‑‑ what would you tell them why the Astros would be attractive?

            A.J. HINCH:  I'm obviously involved in the winter planning and things like that. And I'm certainly up to influencing the way I can.

            One of the things that people probably don't realize is the importance of that relationship between the manager and the player. When a guy is joining an organization it's probably twofold: One, they want to know the direction of the franchise; two, they want to know how the day‑to‑day is going to go with the manager.

            I do think that the arrow is pointing in the right direction. I think they've turned the corner in this organization before I got here. And now that I am here I think that we've taken steps to ensure that a young nucleus that's arriving at a good time to be an Astro needs to be added to, most likely externally. So whether that comes in trade or free agents. You can't recruit the trades.

            But from the free agent perspective, where this team has been and where it's going is drastically different. I think that message can be sent as to how much of an emphasis is going to be put on winning, versus getting through some of the losses the last couple of years.

            Q. A.J., a question about player acquisition and trends. We've seen a lower strike zone, more strikeouts. Do you need to get players who can maybe counteract that, guys that can put the ball in play earlier, or is that overthinking the process?

            A.J. HINCH:  A little bit of both. I don't know that there's really one way to construct that type of competition. Obviously you need a balance, you need a little bit of everything.

            Where I thought you were going to go with that is the catcher‑framing component of the job. There's so many little edges that you're trying to gain throughout competition that it is important. Some of that might be matchups on a day‑to‑day basis, some of it might be a broader perspective on trying to acquire players.

            This game is continuing to evolve and I think that's an important skill to have is to evolve with it. And if that means changing some of the conventional ways that you think the game is played or lineups are constructed or teams are constructed, then those that evolve the best probably have a little competitive advantage.

            Q. So do you see a definite trend as opposed to being ‑‑

            A.J. HINCH:  I'm not sure I see a definite trend other than ‑‑ teams do it in different ways. 30 teams don't try to acquire players the same way. 30 managers aren't going to run the bullpen the same or utilize their team the same.

            Where everybody is together is they all want to win. I think where they're different is how they apply that information that they're getting. First off in team building, then in team implementation on the field. The trend is probably more about trying to find a competitive advantage in a different way than your opponent is. Not necessarily about one specific topic.

            Q. You knew Jeff going in. Have you learned anything about him having worked with him for a couple of months?

            A.J. HINCH:  It's been great. I think Jeff is ‑‑ Jeff having governed sort of where the Astros have been the last couple of years and to where we are right now is people underestimate his desire to win, his desire to win and win for a long time. And I think this ‑‑ nobody likes to say "rebuild." Nobody wants to say "remake." Nobody wants to say "revamp."

            But getting this organization back to where we belong has been a long process. It's still going to take a lot more work. He never turns off. He is a continuous thinker. He's not afraid of challenge and conventional wisdom, everybody knows that. He's not satisfied. So I've learned that from the outside looking in you don't really know how the engine operates. And what I found is he's pretty tireless in his pursuit to try to figure it out and figure it out quickly.

            Q. Have you learned anything from him?

            A.J. HINCH:  Oh, yeah. I've learned a lot from him. I think obviously ‑‑ you can have a group of executives or a group of players or a group of coaches on these panels and say, I want you to evaluate about a certain topic in baseball, and you will be there hours debating it. He might see it differently from David Stearns, who sees it differently from me, who sees it differently fro Trey Hillman, my base coach. It's a continual bouncing back and forth.

            I think how we see players and teams being constructed is very aligned. And I can appreciate that any sort of small competitive advantage. Where we're similar is any sort of small competitive advantage we're trying to find and he's trying to do it in his role.

            Q. Someone that's in the front office of a small market team, what's the challenge of luring free agents to that market?

            A.J. HINCH:  It depends. Be careful what you wish for when you're luring free agents. Some of these markets can get really extreme. Some of these markets are unpredictable. It's hard to be realistic all the time with every free agent.

            But it's not so much a challenge. I've been very fortunate to be in a lot of different roles, that I've seen the sport from a lot of different angles. So for that I'm very thankful.

            It's not so much a challenge as it is you can raise and create ‑‑ depending upon what your payroll model is like, you can raise expectations a little bit.

            Q. There's not an element of convincing?

            A.J. HINCH:  No, I don't think so. I think players want to know what the environment is going to be like. Players want to know what the situation is going to be like. And I think it's important that you send a constant message and tell the truth as to how it's going to be.

            And there's no doubt that we expect this to turn and turn into a winning franchise. And it's hard to be on the front end of that if you're a free agent. But I don't anticipate it being an insurmountable mountain.

            Q. How do you size up your rotation, do you think it's imperative that you do find another starting pitcher?

            A.J. HINCH:  One of the biggest strides that was taken last year was in this rotation. With Keuchel and McHugh and Feldman, Oberholtzer, there's a group that has provided innings, quantity and quality. And then obviously Keuchel with the Gold Glove this year was a great award to have.

            You're always looking for pitching. You never have enough. Whether one of these younger guys steps up and grabs ahold of a rotation spot, whether one is acquired through trade, whether one is acquired through free agency either now or into January, but there's always a need. And even if you have five strong, you're going to need six; if you have six, you're going to need seven. I think a lot of teams go through 8, 9, 10 starters a year.

            So I guess I answered your question with there's probably always a need. And if we can bolster that, then so be it. If we choose to have our resources in that area, we'll make it better. If not, we'll make it better a different way.

            Q. Do you anticipate (INAUDIBLE)

            A.J. HINCH:  He's from Stanford, so he's got that going for him. I've always believed that prospects sort of create their own timeline. I'm not sure anybody in uniform or anybody in the office can pinpoint it perfectly.

            If he pitches up to his ability and makes strides and answers the development questions that present themselves over the course of the year, maybe. But I don't want to put that expectation on him and have him go through a year and turn around to be a disappointment. The key for him is to continue to develop, take the positive that he took out of the Fall League and show up. And then we'll measure it up against Major League hitters in Spring Training. We'll measure it up against competition level that he's at when he starts the year. And then ‑‑ I can't tell you what's going to happen in the six‑month season. But he certainly has the ability to get to the Big Leagues.

            Q. As a manager when roster additions are being made, is it ever a worry that a player would come to your team just for the money?

            A.J. HINCH:  You know, not really. I think these guys don't get to this level without being incredibly competitive and self‑driven. Obviously there's a money component. These guys have earned every dollar that they're going to get. These guys are too prideful in their competition for me to be a primary worry.

            You certainly don't want complacency, you certainly don't want someone to come for the wrong reasons. But to get to the Big Leagues you have to have an inner burn in yourself to get through the season, the grind, the work, facing the world's best every single night that will outweigh any sort of ulterior motive.

            Q. This past season we didn't see the offense warm up with the weather, it actually went the other direction. Whether that was PED's, amphetamines. You also play in the hot weather environment. Do you have a ballclub where platooning and resting players more would be an advantage?

            A.J. HINCH:  We have the AC we turn on inside under the roof on the hot days. It depends.

            I think certainly the platoon advantage that you want to have, if that's the way your team is built, is one way to do it. If you have a guy like Altuve, it's not going to be somebody you take out of the lineup.

            You have to pay attention to nutrition, you have to pay attention to the workout program, strengthening, conditioning, things like that. But these athletes are so conditioned, they want to play every day. And then my job as the manager is to learn that and to be able to give them a blow when they need be. But no preconceived notions from me walking in.

            Q. Can you say anything of your relationship with Luke Gregerson?

            A.J. HINCH:  We were Padres together. Is that what you mean? Yeah, you know, that's something that's ‑‑ that I've been reminded of. I had this in Arizona a little bit because in Arizona it was more I was going to bring every single Minor Leaguer up, because I came from player development. This time around I've got the Diamondbacks and the Padres players that are my favorites.

            So one thing I'm proud of, I developed great relationships with a lot of guys in San Diego. And being in the clubhouse every day, being around that club, working with the catchers under Buddy Black's discretion, those things were really great for developing relationships. But the reality is, is that that's a portion of the exercise when it comes to this time of year.

            But when we were in San Diego together, I had ‑‑ I can't say I had a bad relationship here. I love them all. Now I want to beat them.

            Q. How much are you going to rely on those personal relationships as per metrics?

            A.J. HINCH:  You mean in terms of what?

            Q. Managing the club.

            A.J. HINCH:  In which way? In which part of managing?

            Q. Well, I mean there's kind of ‑‑

            A.J. HINCH:  The human element versus the analytics. We're like 15 minutes in, I was waiting for that one on the first one.

            How I'm going to balance the decision‑making?

            Q. Particularly since your ballclub is noted to be so analytically weighted.

            A.J. HINCH:  Our organization is.

            Q. Well, ballclub.

            A.J. HINCH:  I think you have to have a balance of everything. You can't go running polarizing to either side. The information is valuable. The personal relationships can't be replaced. So it's certainly a blend of a lot of different things. There are tried and true baseball traditions that are held up the course of time. And there are ways you can learn about the game through analytics and through numbers and through people that see through a different lens.

            My job is to balance it all. But I'll rely heavily on a little bit of everything. It's why this job is unique, from a leadership perspective. I have to decide when that is dominated by analytics, or when that is dominated by sort of human relationships. And that's something I hope to bring to the table.

            Q. Is there anything that you're going to take away?

            A.J. HINCH:  Buddy? I am going to utilize ‑‑ I watched him really closely for a couple of years. We brought a lot of guys to the big leagues that were young. So I watched him sort of nurture guys when they got to the Big Leagues. Sort of how he managed the roller coaster ride of the season. Some of the team chemistry stuff he did in Spring Training that I value. Just his overall consistent demeanor is something that I noticed over my years working with him.

            And that often isn't seen by the general public, that isn't seen on TV during games. That isn't seen unless you're really in the trenches and watching that type of interaction, player to manager, was something that I took from him and will now try to create my own in Houston.

            So I'm really happy ‑‑ you learn every step along the way. And this is ‑‑ not knowing that I was going to go back to managing, when I came to San Diego, I had no idea what was going to happen. But I'm happy I got to be around Buddy for those years to pick his brain and learn from watching him.

            Q. A.J., along the lines of learning from experiences, obviously the landscape is different now than it was five years ago. But with the benefit of hindsight are there things you would have done differently looking at this now, you wish you would have done differently?

            A.J. HINCH:  Well, I would have won more, if you can control everything, you want to win.

            I think the main thing is just having the experience in dealing with some of the ebbs and flows of the season. Whether that's how you communicate, how much you communicate, when during the day you communicate with those guys, building the culture and the trust is a two‑way street, not just sort of from the manager's office out to the clubhouse. But there's actually one from the clubhouse to the manager.

            I think delegating with the coaching staff. I mean, it's apples and oranges. I was saying this earlier, apples and oranges on comparing sort of the entry and sort of the culture this time around.

            But at the same time I would tell you I wouldn't give that experience away for anything. Because I think it primarily was the driving force. When Jeff wrote down on his paper what he was looking for, one thing he told me was he was looking for someone that had a little bit of experience. If I hadn't gone through those trials and things ‑‑ and we had good things, too, it wasn't just all bad in Arizona ‑‑ I might not have got this job. So I went from somebody with no experience to somebody with a wide array of experience.

            So now it's up to me to take those life lessons, whether it's interacting with players, whether it's maybe taking a step back and seeing the club from a different perspective. But I've learned a lot in six years through my jobs, but also just being around the Major League club and being a part of an organization that I feel can be useful.

            Q. So is this going to be done by committee with you guys? When you sit down to decide what rotation it's going to be, who the bullpen matchups are going to be, what the lineup is going to be on a particular day, what's the whole system that you've got structured?

            A.J. HINCH:  Are you talking about for me with my coaches?

            Q. And the front office.

            A.J. HINCH:  Yeah, that's one thing that ‑‑ I asked in the interview process how much of the involvement the front office was going to have and things like that. And I was happy to know that Jeff wants me to run the club downstairs. And he wants me and my coaches to pore through a lot of different information, a lot of our own information, a lot of the video, a lot of what we know is true downstairs.

            So with that, you know, there's some collaboration on a lot of different aspects. When it comes to lineup, when it comes to things we do in game, those are obviously my call. But I'm going to use our coaches a lot. We built what I feel is a great coaching staff with two guys that stayed, with Craig and Brent, and then we have a new coaches, Rich, Gary at third, Trey is a bench coach, and the hitting coaches. I'm proud of that coaching staff and I'm going to use those guys a ton as we try to attack 162 games.