The guy who led the Cincinnati Reds to a losing record this season, last season, the year before last season and, yeah, the one before that will be back to manage the club next season.
Even if you haven’t been paying much attention lately, that’s probably an eye-raising sentence.
How many people in the upper echelon of sports get a fourth chance at their first winning season, let alone a fifth?
I realize the Reds went into 2017 with fairly low expectations, but last place is last place.
Fool me once, shame on you – fool me four times, shame on me, isn’t that the saying? Well, close enough I guess.
And yet leave it to Bryan Price to explain pretty well the situation he and the Reds face both now and in the immediate future.
While the results on the field have been lacking from the beginning (Price went 76-86 one year after Dusty Baker led the Reds to a third 90-or-more-win season in four years), Price has often (not always) known what to say about it, which counts for something to us scribes at least.
Let’s dissect what Price said when confirming he will manage the Reds in 2018.
“It’s a good thing for all of us because we’d like to see things through to the other side.”
OK, that’s fair, but when is life fair, really?
“The staff has worked hard here.”
Shouldn’t that be a given?
“The players have stayed together (Not insignificant.) The clubhouse is a good place (Ditto). The young guys are turning the corner in the rotation (True). We’ve got a good foundation to do some really good things here (Also true).
“Everyone understands where we’re going and some of the challenges we faced with injuries, particularly with the starting rotation.” (No doubt.)
“We are where we should be with what we had to work with, getting the young starters here and acclimated (Debatable). In this business, a lot of people don’t get this opportunity (No kidding). I’m really grateful that they’re sticking with me to see this thing through.”
More than 90 games under .500 in his managerial career, Price seems to be under no illusions about whether or not he really deserves another shot:
“You should get what you earned,” he said. “Since I’ve been the manager here we haven’t been real competitive. That shouldn’t put me on sound footing as the manager. What should is that from 2017 to 2018 we make significant improvements or they’re going to have to look at the direction of the club.”
OK, OK, I guess I’m sold.
That seems to be all he’s asking for, which calls for a certain amount of respect in this day and age.
Like I said, firing him might have been fair, but his interpretations of the task at hand are reasonable.
After reiterating his team plays hard (we do love that around here, don’t we?), Price also noted his managerial moves in and before the game haven’t come under a lot of scrutiny recently, and his bullpen tactics (when all his options are on the table) have generally passed muster.
This is all true as well, although one wonders if the aforementioned lack of expectations might have stifled screams about the lineups and the order in which he uses his relievers. Sometimes apathy is worse than scorn.
And after all that, Price also acknowledged tomorrow is never really guaranteed, contract or no contract:
“The last thing I’m going to worry about is the contract, because All-Star break 2015, the baseball community had me out of here – but I’m still here, and that’s really a credit to our ownership and front office to understand what we’re doing and what’s ahead of us. You get what you earn here. Until we show signs of great improvement, I’m in exactly the position I should be in.”
Is there reason to think next year is the year things start to turn around?
The offense and the defense are already there, but the pitching got even worse, declining precipitously for the fourth straight year.
This would seem to be especially problematic when the manager’s specialty is handling the hurlers, but of course the personnel on the mound is much different than it was in 2013 when Cincinnati’s team ERA of 3.38 was fourth in the majors.
Until two weeks ago, this was looking like a completely lost year in terms of building the pitching staff, but there have been encouraging signs since then.
The last three weeks offer more chances for youngsters (and Homer Bailey) to put in good work and build momentum for 2018, so we’ll see how that goes.
READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s blog
The Cubs finished in fifth place in the NL Central five seasons in a row before jumping up to third in 2015 and winning it all last year.
They tore the major-league club down more completely than the Reds did, though, and they had the ability to go out and sign a handful of big-money free agents to go along with the enviable collection of elite talent they acquired via the draft, trades and international signings.
Chicago also made an aggressive move for a difference-making manager after that last losing campaign.
Is there someone similar out there to be had? If not, maybe Cincinnati’s patience with Price will pay off.
If not? It will be someone else’s turn soon enough.