The Cincinnati Reds wasted little time in beginning their exhaustive managerial search once the regular season ended. After interviews with a handful of internal candidates - including interim manager Jim Riggleman and former Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell - the club immediately reached out to some half-dozen other candidates from outside the organization, cementing that regardless of whether their next hire pans out, you won’t be able to blame them for a lack of thorough searching.
On Wednesday, we learned from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that a trio of names had risen to the top of the team’s wish-list, and are now ‘finalists’ or ‘frontrunners for the position’ or ‘getting second interviews’ or ‘might get a Christmas card from the Reds this December,’ or however you’d like to categorize it. Somewhat surprisingly, Farrell’s name doesn’t show up on this shortlist.
You might recognize Joe Girardi from the likes of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, where he resided as the manager of the New York Yankees roughly 40 times a year for a decade-long run that included a World Series. Brad Ausmus, on the other hand, handsomely guided the Detroit Tigers in the wake of a World Series appearance to a 224-260 record in the final 3 years of his 4 year tenure with the club. And David Bell you might recognize as both a member of Cincinnati’s famed Bell family and the guy sporting that hideous jersey atop this article.
Let’s break them down with a bit more specificity though, shall we?
Girardi is still somehow just 54 years old despite seemingly having managed every game I’ve ever watched on national television for many of my formative years. That’s the second ESPN joke I’ve tried to shoehorn into this article already, and for that I apologize.
Anyway, despite a full decade in the New York spotlight, Girardi is actually younger than Barry Larkin, among many other humans on this planet, which is makes him a rare combination of experience and still the kind of necessary youth in whom a team that’s still building towards a long-term goal might well want to invest.
Girardi’s 910 wins across 10 seasons speaks to his successful history as a manager, and his lack of a losing season at all in that span speaks to his consistency. Of course, it also speaks to a Yankees-sized payroll and a constant influx of stars, from Derek Jeter to Mariano Rivera to Alex Rodriguez, among others.
That said, he’s also been graded as an excellent bullpen tactician, as this FiveThirtyEight analysis showed back in 2016, and that’s the kind of important tidbit that should be emphasized now, more than ever, considering the way in which modern baseball is evolving to use relievers earlier and more tactically than ever. He also got a bit of a bad rap about his development of younger players while with the Yankees - Gary Sanchez, in particular - but that clearly didn’t stop the emergence of Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge on his watch over his final days in New York (and Sanchez’s cratering 2018 performance under Aaron Boone boosts that reputation a bit, too).
Clearly, Girardi is the highest-profile of this trio, and would likely be both the most in-demand elsewhere and the most expensive. Still, as candidates go, he’d be the one to bring the most legitimacy to the position, and might well be both a good hire for his managerial ability and for helping to reestablish the reputation of the Reds among the rest of the baseball community - especially free agents.
Ausmus, 49, spent 18 years as a big league catcher, making an All Star appearance and racking up three Gold Gloves as a guy who was legitimately one of the best defensive catchers of his generation. That alone should’ve been enough to get him an eventual managerial job, and then Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre certainly endorsed those chances in Ausmus’ final season in 2009. Of course, that he jumped straight in for Jim Leyland with the Detroit Tigers in 2014 despite his only managing experience prior to that coming as the head of Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic was a bit surprising.
Safe to say, that didn’t go so well.
Despite the Tigers having reached at least the ALCS for three consecutive seasons and boasting a star-studded roster that featured (/takes deep breath) Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, JD Martinez, and Rick Porcello, Ausmus’ first year in charge led to a sweep in the ALDS after just an 86-76 pythagorean record in 2014. And, most importantly, that was his best year of four in charge in Detroit.
Plenty of managers fail in their first jobs. Even Girardi posted a sub-.500 record with Miami in his first managerial stint. That said, Ausmus’ first trial was an abject disaster, and hiring the current special advisor in the Los Angeles Angels organization immediately in the wake of Bryan Price’s stint as Cincinnati manager flaming out in similar fashion would certainly take a lot of gusto from Dick Williams, Nick Krall, and Co. this far into the rebuilding process.
Bell, 46, was born in Cincinnati, graduated from Moeller, is the son of team legend Buddy Bell (and grandson of Gus), and just seems so, so exactly what the Reds want to hire. At least, that’s the on-paper assumption given the presence of Williams as former GM and President of Baseball Operations after each of his grandfather, great uncle, father, and uncle have been minority owners of the Reds dating back some 50+ years.
Bell’s connection with the Reds isn’t just rooted in the city, either. Bell managed the AA Carolina Mudcats in the Reds organization for three years at the end of the last decade, and stepped up to manage the AAA Louisville Bats for a year after. It was at that point that he was actually a peripheral candidate to get the Reds job that eventually went to Dusty Baker, and he has since served as 3B coach for the Chicago Cubs, bench coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, and VP of player development for the San Francisco Giants.
If anything, it’s that experience spanning both the management in the dugout and the management in a front office that makes Bell’s candidacy so intriguing, since the modern game and the proliferation of data analytics makes a seamless connection between those two brains absolutely vital.
He’s never been a big league manager, though, and backing up Price - who had never been a manager prior to being hired - with another rookie is again a risky proposition when factoring in the ‘face of the franchise’ aspect the Reds have reportedly been searching for. Even with his Cincinnati connections, it’s hard to envision the fanbase showing up in droves to buy tickets just because he was announced as the next manager. Still, he might be precisely the kind of change-of-pace, modern manager the Reds need to get this long delayed rebuild up and going.