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The Detroit Tigers thought about making a change.
Manager AJ Hinch hosted a small group of candidates for interviews. He was looking to hire a first base coach after interim Kimera Bartee came up from the minor leagues to serve in that role for most of the 2021 season.
After those interviews, Hinch determined Bartee needed to stick around. The skipper likes the culture his team is building, and the chemistry among the coaches accelerated the process in 2021. The Tigers surpassed preseason expectations and finished 77-85, third in the American League Central.
The next step is the playoffs.
"We had a really good thing going," Hinch said Monday, as the Tigers introduced left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who signed a five-year, $77 million contract to help get the franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. "I didn't want to change that."
The Tigers were always going to keep Bartee in the organization. He would either be working for Hinch or player development director Ryan Garko. Instead of sending him to the minor leagues, the Tigers finalized his presence in their coaching staff in the big leagues.
The organization needs to make a few more hires before announcing its minor-league staffers, but most of the openings have been filled.
Bartee is joined by bench coach George Lombard, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman, pitching coach Chris Fetter, assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves, third base coach Ramon Santiago and quality control coach Josh Paul.
Hinch's first season, though, began without Bartee and Hessman.
The Tigers lost assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr. and third base coach Chip Hale to college opportunities in June and July, respectively. Cruz and Hale departed to take head coaching gigs at their alma maters: Cruz at Rice, Hale at Arizona.
Hinch made an easy move to replace Cruz. He called up Hessman, the Triple-A Toledo hitting coach, to take over in an interim role.
Hessman holds the all-time record for minor-league homers, with 433 in 2,094 games across 19 seasons from 1996-2010 and 2012-15. He only played 109 games in the majors, including 29 games for the Tigers in 2007 and 2008. The Tigers hired Hessman in December 2015 to coach in the minors. He jumped to Toledo in 2019.
"He's earned his way here," Hinch said in June. "He's very familiar with our players, and a lot of our players were excited that he got an opportunity to come up here. He worked with (hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh) and Jose during the spring and was around our club. It was an easy transition for us."
Although Hinch held a mini-process for Bartee's position, he already planned for Hessman's return in 2022. He was impressed by Hessman's relationship with Coolbaugh and believes they work perfectly together.
When Hale left for Arizona, Hinch shifted Santiago — a Tigers player from 2002-03 and 2006-13 — from first base to third base. He then brought up Bartee, the organization's baserunning and outfield coordinator in the minors, to take first base.
Hinch was pleased with Santiago's efforts at third base.
"His fearlessness at third base, his feel for the game, his guts, his awareness has all impressed me in the first few weeks on the job," Hinch said in August. "That comfort level came back very quickly. He's engaged situationally. His timing is good between me and him. Obviously, his familiarity with our team makes it an easy transition in that regard.
"I'm proud of him for being unselfish and going to first base who the third base job is arguably a more exciting job, a more reputable job and a somewhat bigger job. But when the call was needed, he went over (to third base) and tackled that responsibility. He's a good one. He's got a lot to learn and some room to grow in a lot of areas, but I now know exactly why the organization was high on him from the time I got in here."
As for Bartee, he also wore the Old English D as a player.
He played four of his six MLB seasons in Detroit from 1996-99, hitting .227 with four home runs. He stole 20 bases as a rookie. Bartee spent the final two years of his 243-game career with the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies. He has coached for the Pittsburgh Pirates (2017-19), Philadelphia Phillies (2020) and Tigers.
"For us, adding Kimera was very easy," Hinch said in July. "He's been at first base before. He's been in the big leagues. He's done our outfield and baserunning this season, albeit from a distance in the minor leagues. And he can learn and adapt under George as an extension of what George does in the outfield and baserunning here.
"Ramon, obviously, was very excited to move over to third base. It is deemed somewhat of a promotion, going from first base to third base. He did it a little bit last year, which gave me a little bit of comfort for the remaining part of the season."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers finalize MLB coaching staff for 2022 season