The Cincinnati Reds, the oldest professional baseball team, have only played eighteen games so far this year, but it already feels like an eternity. They have lost fifteen of those games and are the worst team in baseball. And anyone who has tortured themselves to watch these games (like yours truly) would tell you that, if anything, at times they appear even worse than their abysmal record. It’s been bad. Dumpster fire bad.
So the Reds did what most teams in such a situation would do: fire the manager. They also fired the pitching coach as a parting gift. Bryan Price has been manager of the Reds for a little over four years (and was pitching coach for four years before that), and in that time the Reds have gone 276–372. Not exactly Joe Maddon at the helm.
Of course, it’s not Price’s fault that the Reds are so bad. As much as fans like to complain about a manager when things go wrong, he actually has little impact on a team’s final record. At best, they might move the needle about 4-5 games in either direction each season. For a playoff-contending team these 4-5 games are essential, but for a rebuilding team like the Reds, they are mostly inconsequential.
Two Reasons for Firing Bryan Price
But regardless of the actual impact Price had on the Reds’ win-loss record, I agree that it was time for a change. Essentially, the Reds had to fire Price for two primary reasons:
1) Danger of losing the fanbase. The Reds are a small-market team, but they do have a devoted fanbase. Even though the Reds haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2013, there are still dedicated fans of the team. However, the start to this season threatened to lose even the most ardent of fans. Losing fifteen of eighteen games at any time of the year is distressing, but at the beginning of the year it can be devastating. That record screams out for all to see. The Reds are running a business, and for that business to succeed, they need paying customers. Those paying customers needed to see that management was “doing something,” even if the “something” is mostly symbolic.
2) Price wasn’t going to get the Reds to the promised land. Over his tenure as manager of the Reds, Price has proven to be a mediocre manager at best. When he was hired he made comments that made it seem like he might be a more progressive leader. But ultimately he graduated from the school of status-quo, old-school baseball management. He stubbornly insisted on batting Billy Hamilton in the lead-off spot (“He’s a fast centerfielder!”) even though Billy couldn’t get on-base anywhere near enough to justify that. This year he continued to put washed-up over-30-year-old bench players in the lineup instead of letting young players develop. No one thought Price would be the manager of the next great Reds team, so why continue to keep him on?
Two Areas for Improvement
Will the firing of Price turn this team around? Well, there’s nowhere to go but up, so I do expect their record to improve. But the absence of Price won’t turn Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Scooter Gennett into Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and José Altuve. Other than Joey Votto, this team has no proven above-average players. Some of the young guys like Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, and Nick Senzel (bring him up!) might turn into stars, but right now they are still developing. Same goes for the pitching staff. I’m high on Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Amir Garrett (let him start!), and I think some of the other young pitchers could be solid, but it could be at least a year or two before they become reliable, above-average MLB pitchers. Until then, the Reds are going to struggle, with or without Price. But there a couple things I think would move the needle for the Reds going forward.
1) Think outside the box when hiring a new manager. Right now the Reds handed the reigns to Jim Riggleman. Fortunately, they gave him the title “interim manager.” He’s not the long-term solution, as he’s been another mediocre manager in his past stints at the helm (and he even quit on a team mid-season once). The most common names being bandied about for the position are Barry Larkin, John Farrell, and Joe Girardi. I’ll take a hard pass on all three. Farrell and Girardi have had success, but that’s with extremely talented, extremely rich teams. The game, frankly, has passed them by. I’m a huge fan of Larkin the player, but his comments in the past suggest he’s in the old-school mold of bunting and playing washed-up veterans with “grit.” Not what the Reds need right now.
A small-market team like the Reds need to think outside the box. They need to innovate and take risks. The Phillies have gotten plenty of grief for hiring Gabe Kapler as their manager, but I give them credit for trying something different. And the jury’s still out as to whether it will work. The Reds need to do something similar. Find some young hotshot analytic-driven assistant and make him your manager.
2) Have an organized plan for the rebuild. The Reds front office has made some mystifying decisions in recent weeks (the Gallardo signing and not bringing up Senzel come to mind). I had been generally happy with what Dick Williams has done so far in his tenure as Reds GM, but recent weeks have made me nervous. In the end, I’d rather see a losing team that’s fully committed to the rebuild and developing their young players rather than a losing team that’s flailing in the wind, which is what the Reds appear to be at this point.
This year has been painful to watch for any Reds fan, but what is most painful is not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully the Price firing is the first step towards a turnaround and a true rebuild that will make the Reds a playoff-contending team for many years to come.