The Cincinnati Reds are going to need a manager for the 2017 season, you know. Despite the bevy of moves that have shed players nearing free agency in exchange for an arsenal of prospects with years and years of future control, the Reds have yet to match that long-term player strategy with a manager who they'll all know will be part of the same long-term plans.
Of course, the Reds have a manager right now, and with every game that goes by that inches us closer to the day Bryan Price's contract is up, the odds that he might get asked to stick around for a few more seasons seem to be getting more and more in his favor.
Back before the 2016 season began, we looked at the writing on the wall for Price, which was essentially centered on two main points. The obvious first: he was in his last season under contract, a lame duck manager that is a position not envied by any of his peers in any professional sport. The second, and perhaps more important, was that he'd have a chance to earn a contract extension beyond the 2016 season if he was "successful," though the definition of success with the then-Reds roster was going to have nothing to do with wins and losses. The Enquirer's Zach Buchanan echoed that point at the start of the season, noting that how Price handled the team's young pitching staff was the biggest key to evaluating his managerial prowess.
"If they're progressing and getting better, that's what his job is to do this year," said Walt Jocketty, the team's president of baseball operations.
Even after the mid-season firing of pitching coach Mark Riggins, Jocketty remained steadfast in his assurance that the mounting losses the team was compiling wasn't going to doom Price, as he told Fox's Ken Rosenthal in early July.
"Right now, we’ve just got to go into the second half and keep improving as best we can and developing these young players. We have seen improvement throughout the season. We’ve just got to continue to do that and take a positive approach and keep guys from losing confidence."
Here we are, already in the last week of August, with less than 40 games to play before the end of this experimental, rebuilding season. We've reached this point and now know largely what the team's front office had hoped to see from Price and from a Reds team devoid of Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, and now Jay Bruce. We know what they'd wanted to observe in order to call 2016 a success, though along the way enough wrenches were thrown at Price that it's hard to even evaluate him on merely those principals.
Back in March, it looked as if Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani would be anchoring the top of the team's starting rotation, with Homer Bailey due back around May 1st and Devin Mesoraco calling games & catching all of them. In reality, Iglesias and DeSclafani have yet to make starts in the same rotation all season, as Raisel's shoulder sent him first to the shelf and then to the bullpen while Disco's oblique strain lingered long enough to delay his season debut until mid June. Bailey, of course, made his season debut a full two months later than expected thanks to a lengthy Tommy John surgery rehab, and Mesoraco - again presumed to be the team's everyday catcher - was gone for the season yet again after playing in just 16 games.
And there was more. Michael Lorenzen missed nearly half the year with an elbow issue that popped up just prior to the beginning of the season. J.J. Hoover, the lone member of a terribly inexperienced bullpen making more than $800K at season's start, completely imploded as the new closer and was eventually dropped from the roster altogether. Even the replacements for those injured players got hurt, with each of Jon Moscot, Tim Adleman, Tim Melville - remember Tim Melville? - Alfredo Simon, Caleb Cotham, John Lamb, and A.J. Morris spending significant time on the DL during the bulk of the season, too.
But somehow, the Reds have gone 21-14 in their last 35 games, and in the middle of a season where winning wasn't supposed to be in the cards in any hand, it now appears to be a tangible byproduct of that "positive approach" Jocketty spoke of back in early July. If leadership that "keeps guys from losing confidence" was what the front office was looking for the entire time regardless of record, it's hard to say the in-dugout management has failed in that regard with the team playing as well as it has of late.
It's not just the winning here, either. DeSclafani has pitched superbly since his return, the second year righty now poised to be a top of the rotation cog under Price's continued tutelage. Lorenzen and Iglesias - both limited to bullpen duty for now to take pressure of their injury prone arms - have flourished as the revamped relief corps, Raisel owning a 0.87 ERA and .420 OPS against in his 18 appearances from the pen and Lorenzen sporting a similarly outstanding 2.70 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Brandon Finnegan has righted the ship with a 2.08 ERA in his last 5 starts and 30.1 IP, the kind of long-view rebound after a tough stretch that I hinted Price might have been managing for back at the beginning of the season during much, much tougher times.
(And none of this even touches on Dan Straily, who has gone from scrap-heap waiver filler to the team's most dependable starter this season - and at 27 years old still has four full years of team control going forward.)
While the arms on the team have been more directly tied to Price's evaluation, the young hitters on the team have done nothing to hurt his cause, either. Both Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton are having the best offensive and all-around years of their careers, and Adam Duvall has obviously flourished in his first full-time gig. Even Eugenio Suarez, who struggled mightily at 3B at the start of the season when asked to play a position he'd never truly played much at all before, has steadied things and is on-pace to match the rate stats from his breakout 2015 season.
The Reds have yet to signal publicly that they've given any real thought to the managerial position beyond Price's current contract. Given the parameters they seem to have created, however, there's a decent bit of evidence that suggests he's met the requirements asked of him. Whether that will be good enough to prompt the team to sign him to another contract is obviously still to be determined, but if simply being asked to make the best out of a crap situation is what the Reds were asking of him, Price can easily make the claim that he did so quite well.