Why did Robbie Grossman join Detroit Tigers? AJ Hinch's winning culture

Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read

Robbie Grossman has never been an All-Star. The eight-year veteran isn't a batting champ, nor does he boast plus-power. But the Detroit Tigers figured they found a missing piece in their rebuild.

So general manager Al Avila got assertive, even amid the historically slow offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, the Tigers signed the 31-year-old outfielder to a two-year, $10 million contract.

"They were very aggressive in letting me know that I was a guy that they really wanted," Grossman said Wednesday. "That meant a lot to me. ... I'm just lucky enough that the Tigers had that much confidence in me. They proved it and now it's my job to go out there and earn it every day."

MORE MOVES?: Here's what else the Tigers could, and should, do in free agency

Left-hander Matthew Boyd called Grossman on Tuesday night. He also has chatted with manager AJ Hinch numerous times to discuss the long-term direction of the organization.

"It means a lot to me," Grossman said, adding he knows utility player Niko Goodrum from their time together with the Minnesota Twins in 2017. "I'm excited to get down there and get to know these guys, to be in that clubhouse, be a Tiger and be a part of that team."

Grossman doesn't fit the description of the impact bat many expected the Tigers to chase this winter, but he brings a refreshing combination: a switch-hitter with a low strikeout rate (20.9% in his career) and a high walk rate (12.6%).

[ What to expect from the Detroit Tigers this offseason ]

His power increased in 2020 with the Oakland Athletics with 12 doubles, eight home runs and 23 RBIs in 51 games. But he is a career .252 hitter across 726 games for the Houston Astros (2013-15), Twins (2016-18) and A's (2019-20).

"My ultimate goal is to have a quality at-bat, whether that's getting a hit, walking, being hit by a pitch or hitting a home run," Grossman said. "There are quality at-bats in baseball, and there are bad at-bats. The more quality at-bats you have, the better off you are winning the game."

Hinch's culture

The relationship between Grossman and Hinch goes back to the 2015 season with the Astros. At the time, Hinch was in his first year as the team's manager; Grossman was a third-year big leaguer.

Their connection made him hungry to come to Detroit.

"I'm looking forward to working with him again," Grossman said. "He was a huge reason that I made the decision. We just caught up and talked a little bit about the team and our needs going forward. I'm all on board."

MORE ON THE SKIPPER: AJ Hinch, the Tigers and the fairy-tale ending he's seeking

Grossman played 24 games for the now-Tigers manager in 2015 but spent most of the year in the minors and was released by the Astros after the season. Still, he learned a lot from Hinch and has the "utmost respect" for him.

During Hinch's five years in Houston, he never had a losing season and made the playoffs four times, reaching the World Series twice and winning it all in 2017.

[ Explaining AJ Hinch's role in Astros cheating scandal ]

"Going forward, you're going to see how smart and witty and knowledgeable he is about baseball, and how he can connect and talk to players," Grossman said. "He brings the culture himself, just going about his business. I couldn't be more excited."

Defensive improvements

Without further evaluation, Grossman's minus-15 defensive runs saved in his career as a left fielder seems to make him a daunting liability. But along with playing all three outfield positions, he has made improvements in the last four years.

He hasn't made an error since June 13, 2018, with the Twins as a right fielder at Comerica Park against the Tigers. His last error as a left fielder was in 2017.

"I don't like saying that, and I know they put that on the (score) board sometimes," Grossman said. "I'm pretty superstitious about that. But it's the same mantra I've had since I got drafted, just get better every day. That's all I can control, trying to get better and improve my craft."

Grossman was a Gold Glove finalist with the A's in 2019.

Message to younger teammates

Understanding where the Tigers are at entering 2021, Grossman is ready to step up as a leader in the clubhouse. He is the third-oldest player on the roster, behind Miguel Cabrera (37) and Jose Cisnero (31).

New faces, such as right-hander Matt Manning and Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo, will likely arrive in the majors for the first time, and last year's rookies — Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron — are expected to return. He will meet top outfield prospect Riley Greene and former No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson in spring training.

[ Hinch pumped about Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene: 'Those are dudes' ]

His message is simple, but his influence could be key to the Tigers' developmental success.

"Enjoy every day," Grossman said. "As a kid, you dreamed of putting on a major league uniform. Here is your chance. Get better every day, learn, grow, enjoy it. Everyone wants to do this. Appreciate what you have but know that you have a job to do."

Haase clears waivers

Catcher Eric Haase, who was designated for assignment Dec. 23 when the Tigers signed right-hander Jose Urena, has cleared waivers. As a result, the 28-year-old was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.

The Dearborn Divine Child graduate played seven games in 2020, hitting .176 (3-for-17) with two RBIs, one walk and six strikeouts. He has a career .122 batting average (6-for-49) in 26 games across three seasons (two with the Cleveland Indians).

As of Wednesday, the Tigers plan to have Haase, Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau compete for the starting and backup jobs in spring training. But they could add another catcher from the free-agent market.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Robbie Grossman joins Detroit Tigers because of AJ Hinch's culture