I've been thinking a lot about managers lately. This is because the alternatives are either "thinking about baseball games" which don't really interest me or "don't think about baseball" which doesn't at all interest me. The fact is, there will be a new person at the helm and at least a couple of changes in the Reds' composition of old dudes in 2014.
I've also been reading a lot about managers lately. This isn't really a common interest of mine, but two fantastic articles came out nearly back-to-back: Leander Schaerlaeckens on Giants' hitting coach Hensley Meulens, and Grant Wahl on Egypt soccer coach Bob Bradley.
At the same time, my beloved Galatasaray have fired their erstwhile-as-heck manager Fatih Terim (who graces the cover image of this post) and hired Roberto Mancini, late of Man City. It's a move that reeks of desperation, as the Lions of Europe have dominated the Turkish League recently, and Fatih Terim is the best coach in Turkish history. I've also never seen a picture of him where he's not sweating through a button-down that's unbuttoned to the sternum, so he's a bit of a spirit animal of mine besides.
The Mancini hire has me wondering. What sort of move do you make when you let go of one of the best managers in your league's history? When you bring in an Italian with no knowledge of the league and no knowledge of his players outside of a couple overpaid stars, how much of a tactical advantage are you really getting? At what point are you hiring to make a better team versus hiring not to be fired yourself?
Of course, Walt Jocketty is not in a position where he has to worry about his own job security. He would rather worry about his legacy: he wants to win a ring, and he thought a change needed to be made to do it. Which fine, yeah, I think most of us agree with him, even those of us (read: me) that really liked Dusty Baker. Dusty wasn't going to win a championship just because I thought he really, really deserved it. That much has been made clear.
So again, what to expect from a new manager? A kick in the pants seems to be the M.O., but the Reds don't want a tyrant that will drag everyone to bummerville at the first 3-game losing streak (at least I hope). Coaching calls as inspired as the Bob Bradley pick are rare. You usually don't stumble into a Princeton grad with a high motor who demands accountability, understands the concept of brotherhood, and is good friends with a Princeton professor in the local context of what you're about to take charge. Also, the expectations are pretty low and Bradley's superceeded all of them so far, just trying to get the country into the World Cup (which he can do with a favorable result in a home-and-home).
Sir Bam Bam, on the other hand, is the sort of polymathic guy that we in Cincinnati would love if we could overlook the flaws ("old school", "flopped Yankee prospect", "responsible, in part, for the worst week of 2012"). And the Giants have gotten far-better-than-they-oughta production from a collection of castoff outfielders and the-bust-that-refuses-to Brandon Belt. He's built an intimate familiarity with the young men in his stead and has done his damndest to make sure they don't turn out like he did.
The Reds are not going to get any of the men mentioned above to be their manager. And there's a certain school of thought that it won't really matter. It's tough looking at the Reds' roster and predicting where improvement can come from. Sure, Votto could be closer to 8 wins than 6, and Bruce could improve on his 5-win season. Frazier (.269) and Phillips (.281) could get BABIP corrections upward, I suppose. Cozart could Have It All Click. I have no clue what's going to happen in CF, and LF will probably be made up of something closer to 2012's 2 WAR than 2013's -.5. Asking for more out of the pitching staff seems a bit ridiculous, and the Reds don't really have the top-shelf financials or minors to bring in a stranger-of-note. The players ultimately play the game.
The manager will be in charge of the stuff we know about (lineup, strategy, bullpen usage, Chapman's role) and plenty we don't (setting the tone, getting along with BP/Votto/Bruce/Frazier, not screwing up the pitching staff). Most importantly, the new manager will be an indication to the fans and the press what we're expecting out of the year and years to come. We know that Castellini and Jocketty come from a robber baron sort of conservatism and probably want someone cut from a similar jib. Demanding accountability is one thing, demanding spreadsheets is another.
The choice of Price intimates an in-house approach that is honestly likely for the best when in a somewhat unprecedented good-team streak. The choice of Riggleman says that Jocketty wants someone under his thumb. A choice outside the organization says that some butts are gonna be kicked, and a choice of Paul O'Neill says that we might see Jay Bruce rush out from the dugout to get between the ump and his manager. At least that's my conjecture. The choice of a manager is as much about giving us a lightning rod for our projections of what the team should look like as it does about what the team will look like.
The new manager won't just be managing the Reds. He'll be managing us. The Reds' tight ship and astoundingly unfriendly media relations means that the manager will be the most unvarnished spokesman we'll have the opportunity to hear from. So of course we're going to read too much into this decision. What sort of individual will be hired and what sort of relationship said individual will have with other individuals is perhaps the most important part of this process and will be completely hidden from us. We'll have to make mountains out of molehills in its stead. I look forward to a November full of doing just that.