Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch has 'natural bond' with free-agent SS Carlos Correa

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Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch knows Carlos Correa as well as anybody in baseball.

Hinch watched from the dugout as Correa made his MLB debut in 2015 for the Houston Astros. That year, Correa earned the American League Rookie of the Year. Two years later, Hinch and Correa beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the 2017 World Series. The manager-player duo journeyed back to the World Series in 2019 but lost to the Washington Nationals. They were also involved in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, which happened in 2017 but wasn't investigated by MLB until November 2019.

Fast forward to 2021, and the Tigers — with Hinch as their skipper — need a shortstop. Correa is one of five elite shortstops on the free-agent market, along with Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez. He will likely command at least eight years and $300 million.

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"Carlos is a great player," Hinch said Thursday on MLB Network. "As a manager, when you move from team to team and you carry good relationships around, there's going to be that natural bond, that natural tie and that natural trust, to be honest.

"Obviously, shortstop is an area we've looked at. We've looked at some starting pitching. We acquired Tucker Barnhart to help our catching. We're active because we're trying to get better and trying to win. We're not trying to win in two years, three years or four years. We're about 13, 14 wins from making the playoffs, if 90 wins in the barometer. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't."

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ALDS Game 1: Astros shortstop Carlos Correa celebrates an out in the second inning against the White Sox.
ALDS Game 1: Astros shortstop Carlos Correa celebrates an out in the second inning against the White Sox.

The Tigers finished 77-85 in 2021, good for third place in the American League Central.

When Hinch addressed his team in spring training, he set the foundation for his winning culture by showing a photo of the Commissioner's Trophy, given to the team that wins the World Series. Although the Tigers started slow, they posted a 68-61 record after May 7 and had winning months in May (14-13), June (14-13), July (14-12) and September (14-12).

"It was a good year of progress," Hinch said. "The players were really incredible at absorbing the newness of me and my staff, the new environment and a lot of change around the organization. Pretty fun to consider the progress a good thing. We're not where we need to get to yet. I don't want to over-celebrate one step forward, but it's looking promising if we can continue the trajectory that we're on."

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Already on the right track, the Tigers would benefit from adding an All-Star shortstop to guide them into the playoffs for the first time since 2014. They also need an established starting pitcher, as well as an additional veteran arm.

Correa, 27, hit .279 with 26 home runs, 92 RBIs, 75 walks and 116 strikeouts last season. He won his first Gold Glove at shortstop by posting plus-20 defensive runs saved. (He has plus-67 DRS in his seven-year career, which means he is a first-class defender.)

Of the free agent shortstops, Correa has the most experience in the postseason. Carrying the Astros to three World Series appearances in the past five years, he has played 79 playoffs games with a .272 batting average and 18 home runs.

This week, Tigers general manager Al Avila attended the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, California. According to MLB Network's Jon Morosi, the organization has already spoken to the agents for Correa, Seager, Semien, Story, Baez and fellow shortstop Chris Taylor.

"We're going to get linked to a lot of people," Hinch said. "My past and my past relationships are going to be on the forefront. Time will tell how it matches up. (Correa's) got decisions. Other players have decisions. We're trying to put together the best team we can as a group.

"I went to the GM Meetings and sat with Al for a couple days. You can't walk through the lobby without somebody asking about these big names on the market. That's because we have interest in a lot of different people. We'll see how it plays out over the next couple months."

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch talks about free-agent Carlos Correa