As expected, the Cincinnati Reds have tapped pitching coach Bryan Price to be the club's next manager. After six years with Dusty Baker at the helm -- even with all the goofy lineups and sacrifice bunts that come with him -- Reds fans should be rightfully concerned about the new guy and whether he can push the team to the next level.
There are reasons for real optimism here.
Price has earned a reputation around the majors as one of the game's brightest pitching coaches. He has served in that role for Cincinnati since 2010; before joining the Reds, Price served for a decade as pitching coach for Arizona (four years) and Seattle (six years). He reportedly turned down an opportunity to become Miami's manager last year, and there have been rumblings that Price was on the Mariners' short list for their current managerial vacancy.
With the Reds, Price has presided over a pitching staff that has developed into one of the best in baseball. Two starters who made huge strides under Price’s tutelage, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos, have given their pitching coach much of the credit. Obviously, we can't know precisely how much credit Price deserves for the successes of the Reds' staff, but we do know this: Manny Parra suddenly became an effective reliever at age 30 under Price's tutelage. In addition to being well-respected, Price is evidently a miracle worker.
Some of the initial criticism of Price's hiring is that the Reds remained in-house, elevating a member of Baker's staff rather than looking outside the organization. Given that GM Walt Jocketty and owner Bob Castellini each mentioned a desire to change the culture in the clubhouse as one of the motivating factors in making a managerial change, it's a bit surprising a more exhaustive search wasn't performed.
Still, that's an unfair criticism. Price was never one of "Dusty's guys," whatever that means. Price was brought in by the front office to replace Dick Pole as pitching coach after Baker's first two (losing) seasons in Cincinnati. Price wasn't hired by Baker, and there is little reason to believe that he represents a continuation of the Dusty Baker managerial philosophy that is responsible for headaches throughout the area.
As a matter of fact, this touches on perhaps the biggest reason for optimism: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Price might actually be the anti-Dusty.
In the wake of Baker's firing, pitcher Bronson Arroyo was quick to endorse Price for the job. In a conversation with Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Arroyo didn't mince words: "He's as organized as anyone in the game, he holds people as accountable as well as anyone I've seen. He doesn't buy into stereotypical things in the game, things that other people buy into that I don't feel are relevant. Price looks at evidence. He's a freaking smart guy, he makes his decision on reasonable evidence.
Sometimes in baseball we go by hunches, what someone else said or they way things have gone in the past. He doesn't do that."
Obviously, one of the chief criticisms of Baker has been that he manages by the book, to a fault. We are veering into old-school versus new-school territory here, and we really don't have any way to know that Price is going to be a sabermetric darling or the second coming of Joe Maddon. If nothing else, however, Arroyo's assessment gives reason to hope that Price will have an open mind about tactics and new ideas.
If Price is open to the idea that someone with a sub-.300 on-base percentage shouldn't be hitting first or second in the lineup, that would be an immediate improvement over the past six years (also known in Cincinnati as the Willy Taveras/Corey Patterson leadoff era).
Arroyo touched on it (as have Bailey, Latos and Sam LeCure recently), but plenty of digital ink has been spilled in Cincinnati over the past year in making the case that Price is a great communicator who holds his pitchers accountable. We've heard that term -- accountability -- a hundred times, and I expect we'll hear it more now that Price is officially the head honcho. I don't know whether this was a coordinated effort by the Reds' media relations department to paint Price as the opposite of Baker, but that has been the practical effect.
Similar to his final days in San Francisco and Chicago, Baker's tenure ended with accusations that he'd lost the clubhouse and, being a player's manager, wasn't holding his players accountable (there's that word again) when they committed gaffes on the basepaths or defensively. Some of that was overblown, but be prepared: This will be the narrative that will inform every single article about Price next spring. You'll read that Price may not be fiery, but he holds his players accountable. Time will tell whether that has any actual effect on the on-the-field product in the Queen City.
One final reason for optimism revolves around the big lefty in the bullpen. Price led the charge last spring to convert Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher, and he was very enthusiastic about that possibility. Baker, of course, had other plans; he couldn't find the chapter in "the book" that referenced turning an All-Star closer into a starter, I suppose. It will be interesting to see whether Price makes one last stab at converting Chapman, or whether that ship has sailed. Either way, Price was open to the idea in the past, and that's a good sign.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered about Price's ability and philosophy as a manager. The early returns, however, are very encouraging. Now if he can just figure out how to get some guys on base in front of Joey Votto, and maybe lead the Reds to a playoff series victory for the first time in nearly two decades, he'll be ahead of the game, indeed.
Chad Dotson runs Redleg Nation, a blog covering the Reds.