The last time a Cincinnati Reds manager went into an offseason with just a single year left on his contract, he was fired. Just five days after the end of the 2013 season - a 90 win year that had the Reds in the postseason - Dusty Baker was let go, his 509 wins with the team and two NL Central titles sent packing after a disastrous end to a promising season. That left Walt Jocketty and the front office looking for another voice to lead the team on their next venture, and they chose Bryan Price, handed him a three year contract, and turned the page with hopes that the future would be just as bright as the recent past.
The first two years of the Price era are now in the books with a paltry 140-184 overall record on the ledger. Gone are Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Todd Frazier, and Aroldis Chapman. Devin Mesoraco and Homer Bailey are coming off serious injuries and stand as major question marks, the black hole in left field has somehow become denser and less solved, and the front office itself has already made a GM change to coincide with what looks to be a hefty rebuilding process.
Awful win/loss record aside, that's a lot to put on the plate of any MLB manager, much less one who's operating as a veritable lame duck. Add-in that .432 winning percentage, the PR fiasco of his profane tirade, and the lack of any managerial experience at any level other than the last two years to fall back on, and it's hard to envision Price feeling confident that he's done enough in his tenure to warrant an extension.
Except, of course, that his tenure with the Reds hasn't been exclusively as the team's manager. Price was promoted from pitching coach to manager after his four year stint with Reds hurlers coincided with quite possibly the greatest run of successful pitching in the franchise's long history. Price was credited with helping each of Cueto, Leake, and Bailey turn into the core of a dominant starting rotation, and that reputation had him in managerial interviews with several other teams after the 2013 season. The Reds hired him in part to make sure he didn't leave the organization altogether, since there was a large likelihood that another franchise would've hired him had they opted not to.
As for whether or not the Reds opt to keep Price beyond the 2016 season, it's hard to exactly pinpoint what they'll be asking of him. Clearly, the liquidation of the recent 25-man roster in favor of a youthful rebuild hasn't exactly armed him with a group that's prepared to win and win often in 2016, which means the win/loss record shouldn't be something he'll be judged on when contract talks inevitably come up.
What the Reds will likely be watching closer than anything is the development of their arsenal of talented young pitchers, a cache as powerful and deep as any in the majors. It's the one asset the team has hoarded and augmented during Price's tenure, and it's the one he's got far and away the most experience with. The team's commitment to fielding a rotation entirely of rookies for most all of the latter half of the 2015 season may well have been a tailor-made second audition for Price, one specifically designed to see if this crop responds to his teachings the way the previous group did. If so, that places quite a bit of pressure on new pitching coach Mark Riggins, too, since he may have been given a much shorter timetable to work with Price and the young pitchers than previous pitching coach Jeff Pico was granted.
The Reds will lose more games than they'll win in 2016 - a solid chance at another 90 loss season firmly in the realm of expectations - but that won't be Bryan Price's fault. It's clear the team is in the midst of a massive overhaul, one that features Price as one of the very few pieces from the previous era that's still part of the organization. The Reds could have easily parted ways with Price at the end of the dismal 2015 season with little more than a blink of an eye from most everyone watching, but their willingness to stick with him for 2016 most certainly means one of two things: either he still brings something to the table that the front office is interested in seeing mesh with the roster for a rebuilding season, or the front office simply didn't want to pay Price and his replacement for a 2016 season that's already down the tubes.
One way or another, a decision will be coming at some point in 2016. Price will either be tasked with turning Raisel Iglesias and Robert Stephenson into the second coming of Cueto and Bailey, or there'll be someone else in charge when the Cincinnati Reds finally are poised to compete again in 2017-2018.