There is a large portion of me that feels bad for Bryan Price, and has for quite some time. Since taking over as manager of the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2014 season, he has watched a sinking ship jettison valuable player after valuable player, turning what had been an NL Central juggernaut into a youth movement with few stalwarts left over.
Then, even those stalwarts began to falter, with injuries to Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, and Homer Bailey immediately torpedoing his first season, with Bailey’s issues continuing thereafter alongside newly extended Devin Mesoraco. Through this all, he managed a cavalcade of rookies, and did so repeatedly as a lame-duck in the final year of his contracts, as the club never once committed to him long-term despite handing him roster after roster that was never designed to win.
His record alone suggests he should’ve actually been fired years ago, but his record alone was obviously not what the Cincinnati front office was using to judge him. That makes waking up to see him fired this Thursday morning feel that much more awkward, since if the losing hadn’t been how he’d been judged to this point, it’s a bit embarrassing to see the front office turn to that as a reason for firing him now.
Look, it was clear a while ago that Price was not going to be the manager of the next great Cincinnati Reds team. What became clear with that revelation, though, was that the next great Cincinnati Reds team wasn’t going to be around any time soon, either, and sinking money into multiple managers just to fire Price and see the losses still mount seemed a bit like keeping a trash fire going by burning your last few dollar bills.
Firing Bryan Price doesn’t necessarily change the direction of the Reds at the moment, and it’s pretty well evident that he was far from the only reason they’re currently on this direction. What’s clear, though, is that the Reds absolutely need a new direction altogether, and firing Price shows the front office has reached that same conclusion, too.
Sure, there’s a chance that Jim Riggleman’s voice as manager will be heard in different tones than it was as the team’s bench coach. There’s a chance that Danny Darwin will take over for Mack Jenkins, notice that Cody Reed has his shoes tied too tightly while pitching, and that solves every ounce of issue the young lefty has faced since being called up. Maybe Amir Garrett gets moved immediately into the starting rotation and flourishes, now that he’s healthy and gaining confidence with every pitch. Maybe, just maybe, the players on the roster will react to a guy losing his job because they haven’t performed well enough in a way that spurs on some winning - though that that would reflect just as poorly on the current players as it would on their former manager, to be quite honest.
The reality is, though, that you can’t take a 2017 Reds team that went 68-94, start the 2018 season minus Zack Cozart, Eugenio Suarez, Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker (for a time), Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan (for a time), and Michael Lorenzen, replace them with only Jared Hughes and Yovani Gallardo, and honestly expect to see the team much better in the standings than where they currently sit. That’s as much on Bryan Price as it is on Dick Williams, the spending habits of ownership, and the players that simply haven’t performed as their peers fell down around them. And, quite frankly, there’s not a damn thing Jim Riggleman is going to do to change that right now, either.
The Reds will get healthier, and that will help tremendously. Joey Votto will not have an OPS that begins with ‘5’ for the rest of the season. Still, the incremental improvement with what’s already here approach that the Reds have sat idly on for four straight years has not been enough, and Price got axed today because of it. That’s fine, really, and a move I’m totally on board with - provided that it’s the first of several moves that help point this franchise in a direction that shows they’re willing to win again.
Where they turn next will be just as vital to digging themselves out of the NL Central cellar as this move, though. Will they shell out the kind of cash it would take to sign, say, Joe Girardi? Would Girardi look at the way things stand at the moment and even consider signing on here with the way things have fallen of late? John Farrell is already on as a scout in the organization - would he see enough in the current system to want the job? Would the Reds honestly turn over the team to another manager with zero big league managing experience (a la Price) and give team legend Barry Larkin the reins at this point?
These questions, and many, many others, will have to be answered the correct way for the Reds to be competitive again soon. Should Bryan Price be the manager of the Reds anymore was the easiest one to both ask and answer, but isn’t one whose fallout will instantly fix everything. The Reds have overhauled and rebuilt the roster once already this decade, and it appears they’re now jumping in to Phase II of this long, long process. Hopefully, it goes a bit smoother this time.