If it feels to you like the Cincinnati Reds have had a non-stop decision to make regarding the status of their manager, you're not wrong. Just last August, Bryan Price was in the final guaranteed year of his contract and the idea of him sticking around to manage the club in 2017 was still firmly in flux - even despite a recent 5 game winning streak over the Marlins and Dodgers and a 22-14 record to start the second half of the season.
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.
The Reds re-upped Price, of course, which is why he's at the helm of the early NL Central leaders right this very minute. However, when the terms of Price's new contract came to light, it was discovered he only received a 1-year contract for the 2017 season with a team option for 2018. In other words, Price is currently managing for his job with no guarantee beyond this year, a man in the unenviable position of being a lame duck just a few dozen games after having his previous lame duck stint be given a paper-thin endorsement.
As Lance McAlister noted on Twitter earlier today, the Reds have now gone 42-39 since the 2016 All Star Break. They've done so while shedding both Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, the last two movable holdovers from when The Reboot first began. They've done so without anything from either Homer Bailey or Devin Mesoraco, two of the non-movable holdovers from the past successes. They've done so with a 2016 team that garnered little to no respect from any national punditry, and they've done so early in 2017 with a squad that was routinely picked to finish not just at the bottom of the NL Central, but with one of the worst overall records in all of Major League Baseball - and even that's come since the injury to Anthony DeSclafani, who might well have been their most valuable trade piece prior to his elbow issues.
What happens in the final 154 games of Price's last guaranteed year under contract will play a much, much more important part of the team's decision on 2018 than the initial 8 we've seen so far this year, which is both obvious and undeniable. But while the team has the right and proper obligation to wait until they see fit to make a decision on how Price has managed to mold his young roster, that shouldn't take the spotlight of the fact that Price is, and has been managing for his Reds career the entire damn time - and getting better by the day, to date.
The winning of late has been nice, of course, especially given how awful the overall records have been throughout the multi-year teardown. But it's been noted repeatedly that 2017 isn't truly a year to judge the Reds based on wins and losses, given that the team's plan is to build a squad that can develop into a serious contender without sacrificing everything for an ill-timed run.
With that in mind, how does one even go about judging Price's ability to partner with such goals?
Innovation, for one. Price's thoughts on multi-inning relievers began to show in full force when both Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen were healthy again towards the end of 2016, and that's when the once awful bullpen began to take off. It's carried into 2017 - with augmentation from the likes of Cody Reed and Blake Wood in similar roles - and has even been echoed by GM Dick Williams as a point of emphasis with so many young, but talented arms in the system.
In-line thinking, for another. Hearing Williams' comments to FanGraphs' David Laurila last month regarding the rebuild and the focus from the front office were refreshing, but they also seem to match up with how Price has been willing to manage games in versatile fashion. "...but maybe we should challenge the notion that everything we were doing before was sane. Maybe there are better ways to do certain things," Williams said, which seems both an expression from a new GM looking to make his own way in the game as well as a baseball mind that's willing to experiment a bit to find new market inefficiencies. It also seems to be in-line with the same premise under which Price has been operating since at least the end of last year.
Progress, finally, which can carry ample connotations beyond just the win/loss ledger. How the young arms and position players develop, primarily, given their experience in the big leagues and how that lines up with when the Reds' current core should collectively peak. How Lorenzen, for instance, looks in his first full, healthy year in a newfangled, pillar of a role. How Eugenio Suarez continues to mature and adapt in the position he'd never played prior to 2016. How Billy Hamilton continues to evolve as a leadoff hitter, how Tucker Barnhart works pitch-framing into his everyday responsibilities, how Amir Garrett and Rookie Davis adapt to facing big league hitters on a regular basis.
Looking beyond how the team sits in the standings shows there's been plenty to be impressed with when it comes to judging Bryan Price's performance. Yes, the juggernaut Chicago Cubs will get 19 chances to beat the last 81 games from your memory, and yes, there will be slumps and bumps that even good, built-to-win clubs would face. But as the Reds continue to track how their manager has held up during these transitional times with 2018 in mind - or, god forbid, an actual guarantee that would make him not be a lame duck again this time next year - it's important to take stock of how things have progressed, and the most recent segment of Price's tenure has been one worth applauding.
That he's kept it up while on a never-ending chase for some reasonable job security deserves a few extra claps.