Entropy is, as Benjamin Franklin more plainly put it, inevitable. The only things we might be able to salvage from this bleak despair of the human condition is that maybe we can make it last a good long while and maybe, if we are lucky, they’ll build a statue of us somewhere nice. But that’s really asking an awful lot. Something close to 100 billion people have walked this earth throughout history and only the best of ‘em ever got a statue. Or at least, the best-connected of them.
Unfortunately for Bryan Price, I think his time should be up and I sadly doubt he’ll get a statue for his efforts.
Way back at the end of 2013, the Reds cut ties with Dusty Baker and promoted Price, then pitching coach, as his replacement. Heading into 2014, the Reds had a legitimate core of talent and a real shot at the World Series, but that old dog entropy ate up their dinner. It was Price’s first shot at running the show and a rash of fateful injuries cut the legs out from under him. The Reds missed the postseason and their window of contention had closed on them. (Happy Mixed Metaphors Day, everyone!)
Thus began the rebuild process. Price was trusted with the team despite the fact that the organization was trading off all of the talent that they possibly could. The rebuild began in earnest in 2015, when they lost 98 games. Price’s charge was now not to lead the team to postseason success, something that so heartbreakingly eluded his predecessor, but rather to teach and guide a young and inexperienced roster through the lean times and develop them into a winner.
Unfortunately for Price (and all of us), entropy has been particularly vicious since then. They’ve done a good job of collecting the talent necessary to make this rebuild a successful one, but rampant injuries have prohibited it from ever really hitting a brisk stride. 2017 was supposed to be the year it started really turning around, but then the entire rotation fell apart. Again, it wasn’t Price’s fault. It’s not like the Reds keep losing because he is a loser. His players seem to respect him, which is a pretty big damn part of his whole job. Maybe you wanna quibble with his lineup construction and maybe you wanna quibble with this or that, but Bryan Price has certainly not been THE reason the Reds are 100 games under .500 in his tenure.
In just these past few months, I’ve been a vocal proponent of the organization and their handling of this rebuild. They all knew when this project began that they would not win any friends with their decision. The fanbase was still kinda chafed from the lost decade of the 2000s and, though the team had been great for a good number of seasons, they had failed to win a postseason series. Executing a rebuild was not the popular thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. I commend them for doing that.
And further, I commend Price for sticking it out. He took over a very strong team and before he could get settled into his new office it was all pulled out from under him. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone in a similar position to tell the organization to go climb a tree and take off for better opportunities. But Price was able to see the opportunity with the Reds for what it was and was up to the task. I mean, Major League managers don’t just quit their jobs. That’d be kinda dumb. But considering the circumstances, I don’t think one could call Price dumb if he had.
All of this is not a comforting salve, though. While you can’t pin any one of these unfortunate circumstances on Price, it remains that the sum total of it all is a team that isn’t on the upswing. At this point, the Reds need to be taking legitimate steps forward and I’m not really seeing any. For all the pitcher injuries that you surely cannot blame on Price, there are too many young pitchers who have failed to develop and he must answer for that. His mishandling of Billy Hamilton is another black mark. I’m less inclined to bang on about him hitting lead off than I am about him not progressing at all at the plate.
But it is the events of the past few days that have caused me to lose faith. While the front office has a defensible (if shaky) explanation for signing Yovani Gallardo, Price has none for pitching him in anything but mop-up duty. Losing Eugenio Suarez for perhaps half the season is enough to make the most rock-ribbed of us break down in tears, but appointing Cliff Pennington as his replacement rather than playing the young and promising Alex Blandino is completely inexcusable. Even if it is just one game, the mere fact that he is entertaining the notion at all is beyond the pale. Amid all of the lousy circumstances he finds himself, and there are many and they are pretty lousy, there isn’t really any room for him to be making unforced errors.
Now that I’ve stepped back a bit, I’m really surprised that Price has lasted as long as he has. I think it is to the front office’s credit (or foolishness, if you wanna) that they have remained loyal to him for so long. Other managers have been fired far quicker for far less. Managers have much less to do with the results than the average fan thinks, so the point that the team is 100 games under .500 with him is kind of a red herring. But when slogging through a rebuild like this, it is essential that the manager put his players in the best possible position to foster development. That is far and away his most critical duty. And now I don’t think Price is doing that.
Again, I don’t think it is fair to lay the blame for all of this at his feet. I’m convinced that there isn’t a manager on the planet who could have done much better considering the circumstances. Even the ghost of Sparky Anderson couldn’t turn this around on his own. But sometimes we must offer up a lamb to the slaughter. And fairly or unfairly, that’s usually the manager.