CINCINNATI -- General manager Dan O'Brien was fired Monday by new Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini, his first major change since he took control of the team.
O'Brien was entering his third season as general manager and had a year to go on his contract. The Reds are coming off their fifth consecutive losing season, their longest such streak in 50 years.
Castellini said he was leaning toward changing general managers when major league owners approved the Reds' sale last Thursday. He met with O'Brien on Monday and told him he wanted to bring in his own baseball executive.
"There is no criticism of Dan," Castellini said. "I just needed my own person."
Even though the club was changing owners, O'Brien didn't expect to get fired.
"I do understand that it's new ownership's prerogative to make changes and hire new people," O'Brien said in a phone interview. "I was somewhat surprised by the move. It's not something that was in my mind 24 hours ago."
Castellini expects to interview between six and eight candidates during the next three or four weeks. Reds pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 16.
It's not uncommon for new owners to change general managers so close to the start of the season. New Boston Red Sox owners fired Dan Duquette during spring training in 2002. Omar Minaya became Montreal's general manager three days before teams reported for camp that year, after the commissioner's office took over the team. That move prompted Larry Beinfest to leave and become Florida's general manager.
Castellini began reorganizing the Reds' front office a day after the sale was approved. He put chief operating officer John Allen in charge of business operations, with the general manager reporting to Castellini. Under previous owner Carl Lindner, the general manager reported to Allen.
It was a prelude to change. Castellini said the next general manager will decide if more change is needed.
"I'm not going to get more involved operationally," he said. "We're going to hire a general manager and he's going to assess his personnel."
Baseball operations director Brad Kullman will serve as interim general manager until a replacement is picked. Kullman told Castellini he would like to be considered for the job.
Castellini offered Lou Piniella a chance to become a special adviser, but the former Reds and Devil Rays manager is taking a year off after Tampa Bay agreed to buy out the final year of his contract.
"Lou really had a year that he had to stay away from major league baseball," Castellini said. "I didn't know that at the time we talked about it. It's just not going to happen this year. And I would expect Lou to go back to managing."
Reds manager Jerry Narron is under contract through 2006, with a mutual option for 2007. Castellini expects him to manage the club this season.
The Reds have been in turmoil since they moved into Great American Ball Park in 2003. General manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone were fired midway through the inaugural season, with Kullman helping to fill in until O'Brien was chosen after the season.
Kullman will have the freedom to work on trades, which would be approved by Castellini. For example, Kullman said teams have shown an interest in outfielder Austin Kearns, but none has offered what the Reds want in return.
"So I wouldn't be surprised if in the next week, we try to do something," Kullman said. "Whether it's possible or not, I don't know."
O'Brien's top goal was to rebuild a farm system that had failed to produce pitchers during Bowden's tenure. During his two years in Cincinnati, O'Brien restructured the minor league system and imposed pitch limits to end a trend of prospects getting hurt.
O'Brien's biggest acquisition was left-hander Eric Milton, who made $8 million last season while giving up a club-record 40 homers and has two years left on his contract. O'Brien also traded popular first baseman Sean Casey to Pittsburgh last month.
Castellini said the change wasn't made because of anything O'Brien did.
"I wanted someone in this vitally important job who I have selected to lead the team and baseball organization," Castellini said.