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Oh Dusty's Contract, Dusty's Contract, Wherefore Art Thou Dusty's Contract?

Will he be smiling in Reds' Red for the next two seasons, or not?
Will he be smiling in Reds' Red for the next two seasons, or not?

On October 11, 2007, the Reds were fresh off a 72-90 season (their seventh consecutive losing season) that had seen Jerry Narron fired after a 31-50 start and Pete Mackanin, an advanced scout with zero MLB managing experience, promoted to interim manager (making him the 6th Reds manager since 2000...yikes). Wayne Krivsky was the team's GM, having been hired prior to the 2006 season by new owner Bob Castellini. The lineup featured David Ross, Scott Hatteberg, Brandon Phillips, Alex Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Dunn, Josh Hamilton, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Only four pitchers made more than 20 starts (Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Belisle, and Kyle Lohse), and Jared Burton, John Coutlangus (!!), and 37 year old David Weathers were the only qualified bullpen arms to post an ERA+ over 100.

Dusty Baker was signed by the Reds on October 12, 2007, replacing Pete Mackanin, and since then, everything has changed.

The pitching, a franchise weakness for some 20 years, has been solidified with a bevy of young, cost-controlled options. Franchise cornerstones Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto have been signed to long contracts. The scouting and development team has been terrific (and stable), producing quality top-round draft picks that have allowed the Reds to fill holes from within. Bob Castellini has put his faith in Walt Jocketty, a long-time colleague and friend, to run the show, and he shows little signs of slowing down.

For a franchise that has been starved for sustained success for decades, it's both somewhat of a surprise and a comforting feeling to know that so many of the variables involved in running a big-league franchise have been addressed. To the best of my knowledge, there's only one real issue that remains up in the air...

The manager.

Dusty's contract runs out after this season, and it seems rather odd that a man with his stature and tenure is at the helm of a team 9 games over .500 at the All-Star break but doesn't have security in his employment situation.

What should he, and what should we, the fans, expect to happen? We'll explore the key questions surrounding the situation after the jump.

Is Dusty Baker a Walt Jocketty guy?

Many will point the fact that Baker was hired by Krivsky - not Jocketty. Is Baker really what Walt is looking for, or did the 2010 Reds playoff run force him into giving Dusty an extention against his better judgement? It's really hard to say.

Jocketty came up as a member of the Oakland A's scouting system in the 1980's, and later moved through their minor league management system into their front office as Director of Baseball Administration. While he was a member of the A's brass, they hired Tony La Russa as their manager. Jocketty left the A's to take over as GM of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1994, and the only manager he hired while the head of that franchise for 13 years was, of course, La Russa.

That's not a lot of variety in terms of the type of manager he looks for, but there are two things that are virtually indisputable. First, Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa are as different in their managerial styles as almost any two managers in the last 30 years of MLB. Second, La Russa is not currently employed by a MLB team as a manager. Make of it what you will.

Is Dusty Baker deserving of another extension to his contract?

I'm guessing this is the area of most contention amongst Reds fans. In his 4+ seasons as manager of the Reds, Dusty has an overall record of 369 wins and 364 losses, a mere 5 games over .500. That, of course, means that entering this season, he was a sub .500 manager of the franchise. His 2010 club was fantastic, winning the NL Central with a 91-71 mark; however, with each of the key players on that team still on the club, the team is a mere 1 game over .500 in the 260 games since Jay Bruce's division clinching home run. Also, he's only a career 19-20 in the playoffs, including 0-3 as Reds manager.

Considering he's had a losing record in the other 3 seasons in which he's been in charge, is that good enough for any manager to get a multi-year extension? Is it good enough to warrant an extension to one of the highest paid managers (roughly $3.5 million per season)?

In itself, his win/loss record merits debate, as do many of his managing tactics. Dusty has long been criticized for his lineup construction, and he's done nothing this season to rectify those concerns. The Reds again are giving more ABs to bad hitters at the top of their lineup than to quality hitters at the bottom of their lineup, and once again they rank dead last in collective OPS by their leadoff men. Never the sabermetrician, Dusty not only continues to defy his stat-based critics, he also continues to verbally spar with anyone who questions his tactics.

Dusty, to his credit, has been the longest tenured Reds manager since Pete Rose (1984-1988).

What would it take to sign Dusty again?

This is likely the most cut and dry question. At his age (63), he'd likely agree to a 2 year contract much like the one he's currently finishing. His age and stature would suggest he wouldn't settle for just a one-year deal, but his track record suggests he wouldn't warrant any longer than 2 years.

The core of this team will be around for the next half-decade (or more, in Votto's case). Do the player's want him as their manager?

Dusty, for his part, has rightfully earned a reputation as a player's manager, siding almost exclusively with maintaining clubhouse and player morale over single-situation changes when presented with the opportunity. That not only plays well with the players currently on the squad (by giving them confidence that one screw-up won't cost them their job), it also is a great selling point when it comes to convincing Free Agents to join the franchise.

From the best I can tell, there has been no dissent amongst the Reds ranks in regards to his managerial tactics, and they seem to be pleased with his decisions - at least publicly. Brandon Phillips has had a few issues with bouncing around the batting order, but he seems to have genuinely discussed those with Dusty, and Dusty has readily acknowledged that BP is taking one for the team by moving around; that situation is a non-situation. Even when Dusty called out Aroldis Chapman in Somersault-gate, there was no backlash from the player's perspective.

While players may have their druthers about Baker's managerial style, there's been no indication that they desire a change for change's sake. An upgrade, perhaps, but a change just to shake things up doesn't seem to be desired.

Lastly, if not Dusty, what are the Reds other options?

For a team that has established, homegrown, All-Star caliber players signed long-term up and down the roster (and, duh, the best 1B in all of baseball), I'd be shocked if Baker was not retained in favor of a manager with less of pedigree than his, with cost not a factor. For now, at least, I think that rules out current Louisville Bats manager David Bell (widely thought of as a fast-riser in the managerial ranks). I would also be shocked if Jim Riggleman (current manager of the AA Pensacola Wahoos) and his career .445 winning percentage as a MLB manager were chosen.

That leaves only two real options if Baker is not retained: Terry Francona and Tony La Russa. La Russa has been discussed ad nauseum, and while I agree that his name will certainly be in the discussion, I sincerely doubt he'd be considered a serious candidate for a littany of reasons, not the least of which include the 2010 Reds/Cardinals brawl and this year's All-Star kerfluffle.

Francona, on the other hand, is easily the highest-profile manager on the market besides La Russa. A two-time World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox, Francona would bring both a reputation and a spotlight to Cincinnati, as well as represent an "upgrade" in pedigree from what Dusty currently offers. He did also play for the Reds in 1987, so there's that, I guess.

Is Francona an improvement over Baker? Is it worth the change?