As Joe reported last Thursday, the Cincinnati Reds fired manager Bryan Price on the travel day before their trip to St. Louis. Once there interim manager Jim Riggleman started to turn things around. I’m kidding, of course, the hated Cardinals swept our boys out of town, finishing with a 9-2 shellacking on Sunday. It would be their fifth straight loss and leave them limping back to Great American Ballpark with a record of 3-18, worst in the major leagues.
Doomed from the start?
Dusty Baker’s tenure as Reds manager ended after he failed to advance in any of the teams postseason ventures, frustrating fans and management alike. Bryan Price was hired before the 2014 season as the replacement for Dusty after an exhaustive search of the people who already happened to have a parking space at GABP. He took over a team coming off four straight winning seasons, including two division crown and a wild card appearance. Though he had never managed at any level of professional baseball, the Reds brain trust were evidently wowed by Price’s interview and handed him the keys to Dusty Baker’s office and a team largely unchanged from the 2013 squad.
This turned out to be the first of many mistakes that would lead us to where we find ourselves today. The 2013 Reds weren’t a championship caliber team that just needed a steadier hand at the tiller to navigate its way to glory. That Reds team collapsed in the waning days of the season, dropping behind the Pirates in the wild-card race, sending a dinged up Johnny Cueto to the mound in Pittsburgh in place of a dinged up Mat Latos. It was a squad that had been coming up shorter and shorter since the 2010 Division Champions, yet the front office refused to make serious additions to the roster. Instead, they depended on internal solutions to patch over the holes starting to appear up and down the roster. Some worked (Todd Frazier replacing Scott Rolen,) some didn’t (Billy Hamilton replacing Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the order.) But it was all a holding action against the inevitable collapse.
Losing, and losing it
Bryan Price finishes his tenure as Reds manager with 279 wins against 390 losses. During that time he appeared to be doing his best, experimenting with Joey Votto in the second spot in the lineup, a move most Strat-O-Matic players have been doing since Votto was a rookie (trust me the math works.) He also seemed to have at least a little willingness to use his relievers more creatively than most. Unfortunately, those moves were necessitated by an ever-shrinking supply of quality innings from his starters. He also seemed to have a knack for turning discards into useful players like outfielders Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, or second baseman Scooter Gennett.
Unfortunately, Price’s ability as a pitcher whisperer that he had developed as a pitching coach in Seattle failed to follow him to the first seat in the dugout. Between Tony Disco’s balky back or Homer Bailey’s
trick elbow, injuries have wrecked the rotation, handing starts and innings to unproven rookies and laughable retreads. And Price has shown no ability to turn pitchers around, seemingly making good pitchers average and average pitchers awful.
Managing the lineup and rotation are only part of the job of a major league skipper. Handling the media and the clubhouse, as well as communicating the teams needs to the front office are also important skills. Price hasn’t done those jobs particularly well either. In April of 2015 he launched into an infamous profanity-laden tirade at reporters who had quite accurately noticed that perpetually injured catcher Devan Mesoraco had not made the road trip with the team. Though he later apologized, he had poisoned any positive relationship he might have had with the press.
This solves nothing
Firing your manager before the Kentucky Derby is not the kind of thing good baseball organizations do. Reds GM Dick Williams, advised by the undying corpse of Walt Jocketty, looked at the past two seasons of 68 win work from Price, made no major additions to the team and told Bryan to get out there and do his best. Blaming the manager for the 3-18 start at this point just seems cruel. Bryan Price can’t spin straw into gold and the front office isn’t even providing high-quality straw to start with. Even with Eugenio Suarez on the shelf with an injury they’ve left top prospect Nick Senzel waiting in Louisville. While the farm system was ranked #8 in the league by Bleacher Report in the preseason, beyond Senzel and the already promoted Jesse Winker, there aren’t any impact reinforcements arriving this year.
Jim Riggleman will captain the ship through what looks like it will be stormy seas in 2018. Suffice to say that even employing Jim Riggleman is a suspect move considering the nonsense he pulled at his last job. He walked away from the helm of the Nationals in June because they wouldn’t extend his contract. Joe has a rundown of the rumored candidates which I can’t argue with. I think Barry Larkin would be a mistake, for everyone involved. And other than proven commodity Joe Girardi, none of the experienced retreads particularly excite me. I’d love to see the organization step outside the box and cast a wider net. Former Red Roberto Kelly, currently managing in Mexico is an interesting prospect.
It’s rebuilding time
Whoever manages the Reds next year will not have an easy task. The NL Central is no longer a mid-market playground. The Cubs suddenly becoming the Yankees of the Midwest means a team that wants to win the division needs to aim for well north of 90 wins. As Joe Sheehan wrote last week in his newsletter (which you should subscribe too!)
The Reds are in deep trouble. There’s little evidence at this point that their management group knows what it’s doing, and the team is competing in an absurd competitive environment. You’re not going to fluke your way into a soft schedule and a big year in one-run games and steal this division. You have to get big things right over a period of years, build a true-talent 90-win team, and even then get some help. The Reds aren’t the Marlins, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many organizations that seem less equipped to handle 21st-century baseball.
I couldn’t agree more. The Reds are flailing right now. Unless ownership takes a long hard look at how their front office is screwing up, changing managers is like replacing the bandleader on the Titanic. It might sound better, but it’s still sinking.
“From our Haus to Yours”