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December 10, 2019

AJ Hinch

San Diego, California

AJ HINCH: Not sure I've ever been so popular. As we start, I want to start with some opening remarks before we get to some questions.

To address the elephant in the room, I'm happy to see all of you. I know you're all here for obvious reasons, and I have great respect for what you do. If I was in your shoes, I would be on the other side of this table, and I would want to ask questions and find answers and get some more information on the investigation and all the allegations and things like that.

I know you're probably expecting this, but I can't comment on it. It is an ongoing investigation. What I can say is I've committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB. I've talked to them a couple times, and we continue to work with them as they navigate the investigation, and now we're waiting with everything in their hands.

So I know there's still going to be questions. I hope there's a day where I'm able to answer more questions, but I know today's not that day. I know it will disappoint some people. It will not stop all of you from asking questions about it, but I can assure you I'm not going to answer questions about the ongoing investigation.

Q. Aside from the facts and what's turned out, do you worry at all that what Fiers said, no matter what is found out, it will taint the accomplishments of your team?
AJ HINCH: So I consider that all part of the investigation. So I'm not going to comment on it. As I said in my previous comments, this is a very complicated and very involved process. I have a lot of respect for the process. MLB is doing it. If I told you how much time I spent with MLB and the investigation, I know we're not going to wrap this up in a 20-minute news conference here. So I will decline comment.

Q. Why do you feel you can't talk about this?
AJ HINCH: I've been asked not to talk about it until the investigation is complete.

Q. By the league office?
AJ HINCH: By everyone I talked to during the investigation.

Q. AJ, are you worried you can incur suspension for this?
AJ HINCH: It's part of the investigation.

Q. How much time have you spent with MLB people?
AJ HINCH: A lot.

Q. Specifically?
AJ HINCH: A lot.

Q. Do you have a sense of when they want to decide this thing, or when you're going to find out?
AJ HINCH: No, it's in their hands.

Q. Is it hard to not know exactly what your fate is?
AJ HINCH: It's all part of the investigation. If you guys have any questions about the Astros during our off-season other than the investigation, I've got answers.

Q. You do realize during the ALCS you kind of came out and even made fun of the fact that there are these questions being asked. I don't know, is there any contrition or anything that you feel like --
AJ HINCH: There will be a day when I get to address all of it, I assure you.

Q. I don't know if this falls under it, but you've accomplished a lot with the Astros the last five years. Do you feel like this investigation throws any of that into --
AJ HINCH: You said "investigation," so I can't answer it. (Laughter.)

Q. I guess, do you feel like this whole issue takes away at all from what you've done?
AJ HINCH: We have a really good team. We have a lot of good things going. We have -- we're trying to build the 2020 team. Our energy's been spent on that. Obviously, it's been a different off-season for us.

So, again, moving forward, I hope there's going to be a day when we get past this and we can move forward. But until they're done with the investigation, everything that it encompasses, I just can't talk about.

Q. In putting together next year's team, has this made any free agents or players you look at shy away from you?
AJ HINCH: Yeah, we've got a lot of good options. We've got a great nucleus of a team that has been very successful, that is a strong nucleus. It's a team that's preparing. I've been in touch with our players, and they're very happy with where their off-seasons are and how they're going to be ready going into the season.

We do have a few holes to fill. We've lost a lot of high, high end innings, or at least the threat of us losing a high end innings, and in the rotation we've got some young kids that we're excited about. We've got a pretty full position player group outside of the catcher position. The conversations that we've had, Jeff has had, the recruitment part of it has all been very positive.

Q. I think around baseball there's this kind of impression about the Astros that you guys are kind of arrogant and now obviously that you guys are cheaters. Does that image bother you?
AJ HINCH: I can't really control what other people think. I'm pretty focused on our team.

Q. AJ, have you communicated with Cole at all?
AJ HINCH: Yeah, Gerrit and I developed a great relationship. I'm following along the news like you guys are, and some of you are closer than others about it. But I was just up on a vacation, an anniversary vacation, and he and I were texting back and forth on a common interest that he and I shared.

I've been in touch with him. I know he's enjoying the process. I don't really know any details. I never asked him. It was more of a personal exchange between he and I, but he's pretty popular, as he should be. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Q. Do you consider you guys to be in it for him?
AJ HINCH: I don't know. We've always maintained contact with Gerrit because of the impression that he made. You develop these bonds with these guys, so when I say I've talked to him, as the manager, I can say I've talked to him, and I don't know what that means on the business side of it and on the contractual side of it, but you just don't cut that off when a guy hits free agency.

I had a very heartfelt conversation with him following Game 7 of the World Series. I'll cherish his words that he said to me whether he returns to our team or whether he goes on, but those are some big checks being talked about around the league, and I'm not writing them. So I think he's in a very good position to do whatever he wants.

Q. Never mind the investigation for a second, do you think it's crossing the line to steal signs?
AJ HINCH: The sign stealing part of it is all part of the investigation. So my comments on sign stealing, my comments on investigations, allegations, even the principal people that we've talked about, articles that I know have been written -- it all has to wait for another day, and I'm sorry. I want to answer it and not try to redirect you guys all the time, but I simply can't do it.

Q. But you do get, though, that's not a detail question?
AJ HINCH: It is a detail question, though. It's a detail to me.

Q. It's just what you think.
AJ HINCH: And I'm going to keep what I think to myself until I'm ready to comment on it.

Q. Has it been stressful?
AJ HINCH: It's not comfortable. It's a stressful off-season in general just because our team's changing. I think that's what I'm stressed about. I think the -- you know, we had one of the best teams that I've ever been around and ever can imagine being on last season with the type of pitching staff we had, with the nucleus of the position players, the bullpen that we had, and we got to Game 7 of the World Series. So the stress comes with wanting to get back to that same level of caliber of team.

While the off-season moves quickly, it also moves a little bit slowly when it comes to the conversations about what players you're going to have.

Q. How challenging will this be for you to get the team on the right track again after everything that's happened since Altuve's home run? If you think about the celebration, the front office, the turnover, the turmoil, losing four games in the World Series at home, and then all this, that's a lot for you.
AJ HINCH: It is. We have really good players. We have a really talented group. We have a group that's matured over the years. What I've seen during my time in Houston is seeing George Springer grow from a young kid in 2015, busting onto the playoff scene and the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, all the way to now, having accomplished a lot and maturing into a leader.

I see Jose as a leader. I see Carlos as healthy as can be. In some videos from his wedding, he was dancing quite nicely. So I know he's healthy.

Bregman is driven as ever, having just fallen short multiple sides. On the personal side, he missed out on the MVP; on the team side, we missed out on the World Series Championship.

I think the difficulty comes with trying to maintain this level of winning like there is around the league. The Dodgers have it. The Yankees have it. Teams that have won a lot over the last few seasons. We'll be ready, though. I really do believe in our players.

Q. Do you second guess yourself for taking Greinke out in Game 7?
AJ HINCH: Second guess was way back when. That's when the game was. You always second guess yourself when it comes to the result that you don't get. I think the tough part of any Game 7 is there's so many moving parts.

When I look back at the World Series, there's certainly decisions in -- in that I will put Will Harris in any game any given time. He's a free agent. I don't know he's going to return. At that given time, he was one of our go-to guys, and I had gotten as much out of Zack as I thought I could.

When it doesn't work out, the automatic assumption from all of us is that the other way would have been perfectly fine, but if it hadn't worked out the other way and I'd have left Greinke in, I would have been asked the question: Do you regret not putting Will Harris in the game?

It's a results-oriented game, and I always want to be perfect on the decisions in the front end, and I felt like I was, and then on the back end you don't feel like you were perfect because of the results.

But I look back at the World Series much differently than maybe fans or anybody that covered it because there were opportunities in all of our games that we didn't win that could have changed the dynamic of the series.

Q. AJ, you're pretty particular about your catchers.
With this team specifically and with this pitching staff, what type of catcher do you think would be the best fit for this team?

AJ HINCH: We have two on the roster with Garneau and Stubbs. Both have a little bit of service team. Both are defense first type of guys. We're excited about the adjustments Garneau has made in his defensive profile. Stubby hasn't quite got the opportunity yet.

I'm certainly -- I'm hard on catchers. Every catcher who sits here in the manager's seat will be hard on catchers. I want somebody that can handle the complexity of our game plan, handling Verlander to Greinke to Lance McCullers is coming back, Urquidy coming off of a very good finish to his season.

Whatever pitchers we add, the Josh Jameses of the world, the Peacocks that may be starters, may be relievers, that's a complicated job, and I like someone that can handle all of that and then maybe hit a homer or two.

Q. Were you surprised after a Game 7 how quickly Gerrit changed from Astros hat to Boras Corp. hat?
AJ HINCH: No, I saw Gerrit. He had it the whole day. I think he would have worn it after a win too. I think Gerrit understands exactly where he was at in his career, and like I said, that meeting that I had with him after Game 7 outweighs any wardrobe choice.

Q. Dave Roberts was asked about the relationship with you given what's happened since the end of the postseason. He says he still considers you a close friend, but have you noticed any difference in your relationship throughout baseball?
AJ HINCH: No, I've got great relationships in baseball. I stand behind who I am and the relationships I have, the managers that I've spoken to, the players that I've spoken to, the GMs and presidents of baseball ops, assistant GMs, farm directors. This is a big deal here at the Winter Meetings, interacting with everybody, and I've got great relationships. I've been good.

Q. How careful will you have to be with McCullers this year? Is that something you plan out maybe before the season?
AJ HINCH: Yeah, Lance is doing great in his rehab. He's doing everything we've asked him to do moving into off-season mode. We have a throwing program that we have set up for him. He knows what he needs to do to get himself ready. He's anxious to get on the mound and compete again. So we'll probably have to rein him in a little bit in the spring, but I love where he's at mentally and physically; that he knows he's coming back to be in our rotation.

We will obviously have a plan for him given that he's coming off of a major surgery. That will be discussed as we get closer to spring with him, and then we see his physical readiness, getting ready for a normal camp.

Q. If you lose Gerrit Cole, how irreplaceable is he?
AJ HINCH: Man, that's -- any team that loses someone probably feels as bad as somebody that gets him feels good. He's just -- he did -- his last season was so incredible across the board, from volume to the elite performance to the strikeouts. We got to celebrate a lot of different things with him and personal achievements with him that was so unreal and dominant. That's hard to put into words.

You're not going to find a person that you have an expectation to step up and just replace that, either internally or externally. So it's obviously a big hole to fill.

Q. I know you traded Marisnick, but you still have somewhat of an outfield surplus. Given how well Tucker acquitted himself in September, is it just going to be if he performs, he'll play?
AJ HINCH: Yeah, we'll just have to sort all that out as far as where our team is. I think the 26th man on the roster is coming at a good time for us. We seem to -- or we feel like we have a lot of guys that can fill Major League roster spots right now, and that will help. Some versatility will help.

We introduced first base to him a little bit. That impacts Myles Straw, who moves around the field. We had him at shortstop and second base. Toro moved around a little bit. Even Reddick grabbed a first base mitt. We'll talk about Yordan Alvarez in various positions.

We're trying to build a versatile team that will hopefully accommodate for some of the perceived lack of at-bats that are out there for everybody, but generally speaking, I've always wanted to play the guys that are performing.

Q. How will the three-batter minimum change both what you do in game and how you formulate your roster?
AJ HINCH: It's hard to say. We're going to have to talk about it. Now, I didn't have a left-handed reliever in the bullpen, so it didn't much matter to me last year. This year we'll see how the bullpen is made up. It will impact the strategy. I've never been a big fan of it, but at the same time, it's not a rule that I got to vote on.

So we'll see if it comes to pass, and if we've got to accommodate for if it, I'll leave him in for three batters or until the end of the inning or the other stuff I've read. It will impact strategy for sure.

Q. AJ, is it any different now with the Winter Meetings given how much your team has lost its organization just with all the trades, how much the Minor Leagues have thinned out a little bit, is it any different the way you guys are doing business and talking to other teams? Is it more free agency than looking to trade?
AJ HINCH: On both sides of the front office and the field, you don't really get to dictate that a lot unless you're going to be really aggressive in the free agency with money. That's the only thing that generates movement in the market this early with free agency.

Now, we're just as creative -- we're trying to be just as creative and just as aggressive at the needs that we have, but you've got to find a dance partner if you're going to make a trade. You've got to find a free agent that's ready to sign. You've got to evaluate your own talent to see who can fill from within.

I don't know that it's been that different for us. It's been fast, and we've been, obviously, very busy, but for the most part, I feel like this has been -- on the player acquisition side of it, normal operation, Jeff communicating to me and me communicating to others.

Now, we've had some other things happen this off-season, like our first base coach was just named the bench coach in Pittsburgh, so now that creates a ripple effect. If we stay internal, that will create an opening in the Minor Leagues. If we go external, we've got to hurry because teams don't really like you calling on their employees in December.

Q. You mention the Will Harris. I know you have a really good relationship with him. It would probably be a good, comfortable spot to have him back. How do you think your relationship might help to get him back? Have you reached out to him?
AJ HINCH: Yeah, I reached out to him about LSU. He's really proud of LSU. A lot of people on our team are happy about LSU, even one of our writers. I've talked to Will through text occasionally, but I really just try to maintain the relationship and not get into: What's happening with you? I don't want to get into the gossip. I don't want to know every detail. I'm not interested in the money. That's not my job.

My job is at the so-called exit interview to make them understand they know exactly where they stand with me. I'll be lifelong friends with Will. He and I came into the Astros at the same time, and he certainly is a great addition to anybody that has him on their team.

Q. It seemed to move pretty quick with Donny going to Pittsburgh. I guess, how do you go about -- do you think you're going to stay internal, or will you look at some external candidates?
AJ HINCH: We just talk about it. Right now we're going to focus internally and go from there. We've got a few candidates that I've had in Big League camp before that I don't want to get into the name, but there's some guys that we have that we're going to talk to.

If we find what we're looking for, then we're very comfortable promoting from within. If we don't, then my phone's been blowing up for a lot of reasons, including the job opening at the Major League level.

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