It took until the September 30th last year for the Cincinnati Reds to announce that manager Bryan Price would get a new contract, one that would make him the manager of the club beyond just the final two games of the 2016 season. As The Enquirer’s Zach Buchanan noted at the time, it was a contract that guaranteed the 2017 season with a team option for the 2018 season, a contract that still seemed more of an agreed up on stopgap than an actual commitment to Price managing the team into the future.
It’s a question that admitted dogs plenty of clubs and their managers, as even many established rosters with wins on their ledger don’t guarantee contracts for managers years down the road. However, in the case of the rebuilding Reds, it’s been an odd marriage of a trio of principles - a concession to losing as part of the rebuild process, the willingness to hold on to the same manager through that entire process, but the unwillingness to commit to said manager for any concrete period of time. In fact, if you think about it, the 161st and 162nd game of the 2016 season were the only two games Price has managed since the end of 2015 where he did so with knowledge that he had a contract for the following year. Just three games after signing his new deal, he was already a lame duck manager again, as the start of the 2017 season again put him in his last guaranteed year under contract.
What’s different about 2017 than 2016, though, is a specific clause in this new deal that apparently wasn’t around in his previous one. In The Enquirer’s piece detailing the contract from last September, this particular nugget was included:
The 2018 option must be picked up or declined at an earlier point in the season than the final series of the year, the point when Price’s fate has been decided each of the last two seasons. Williams said that point is still late in the season, but wouldn’t announce the specific date.
With just 27 games and less than a calendar month until the season’s final series, that means we’re due to find out whether Price will return for the 2018 season at some point quite soon. For Price, that will determine again whether he’ll be out of a job or entering his final year under contract for yet another go-round.
It’s easy to point at Price’s 264-354 record in his 4 years at the helm of the Reds and say that bringing him back isn’t the wisest idea. Of course, if that was the only metric on which the Cincinnati front office was judging him, he wouldn’t have been back after last year in the first place. Teams don’t trade away Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips, and Dan Straily with present day wins and losses as an overriding priority. And even if the Reds did have blinders on and thought that a return to winning should happen sooner than it has, the physical breakdowns of the veterans they did keep - Joey Votto in 2014, Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco every year since then - have further torpedoed Price’s overall record, not to mention the litany of injuries suffered by the players brought in as the return for those previously mentioned stars.
For the Reds, this is most certainly not a what have you done for me lately decision. It’s 100% a what can you do for me now decision, one that’s predicated solely on whether they think Price can lead the current iteration of the Reds out of the cellar and into the win column more often than not going forward. If Price and his coaches can help the bevy of young starting pitchers turn the page in their development the way he, when pitching coach, helped Cueto and Bailey and others find their eventual success after early career struggles.
We all might find out September 1st, if that’s the deadline in the contract. It might be September 15th. What’s more pertinent than the actual date we find out, though, is that after a 618 game sample and all the veterans who were set to be traded in the rebuild having already been moved, there’s nothing tangible that’s going to happen to sway the parties involved between today and the time we find out whether Price’s 2018 option will be picked up, really. It’s hard to envision that 6 more innings of 2 ER ball by Robert Stephenson would be enough to change the front office’s mind at this point, nor would an 0 for 12 streak at the plate by Eugenio Suarez or Jose Peraza.
No, at this point there can’t be much left to be decided, only the announcement of said decision. And that announcement has to come soon.