There has been a rash of Jim Riggleman boosterism across the Reds internet in recent days (here’s a link to John Fay’s, but understand that there are a million others). Some are outright advocating for it, while others are more diplomatic in approach. All the same, the takes are coming in hot and there aren’t enough oven mitts to go around.
There are a number of angles to this. The proponents will point out that the Reds are basically a .500 team since Riggs took over (when they were 3-18 back in the bad old days) and that the players seem to respect him and respond to him. The opponents will counter that the team is better mostly due to regression (no team is 3-and-18-level-awful forever) and that the team is finally playing at full strength with a number of key players back on the roster and healthy. And besides, the manager doesn’t matter that much, anyway. But then, if the manager doesn’t matter then why come out so stridently against Riggleman, who is likely just as good or bad as any other?
My feelings on this are boilingly tepid. Speaking about Riggleman specifically, he seems like a regular run-of-the-mill replacement-level manager to me. Although some of his decisions have been refreshingly progressive in his short stint with the Reds (fixing Billy Hamilton into the ninth spot in the order, leaning on the bullpen for multiple innings to help keep the young starters from overexposure, moving Tucker Barnhart to the second spot, and whatever), he certainly still has the stink of an old-school guy. His perpetually taciturn grimace, his instructing the clean-up hitter to bunt, and his firm insistence that Raisel Iglesias only appear in save situations all serve to remind us that he is still an old white man who has been in baseball his whole life. The spectrum of difference in that particular population is pretty narrow, for better or worse.
The Reds’ brass remains dedicated to conducting a proper globe-scouring search for the Next Reds Manager come the autumn, which I think leads us to the real important question: what exactly can we expect from the next manager? Is there a single reasonable choice that will inspire anything but boilingly tepid indifference?
The buzz is still humming around Barry Larkin, which might be the most volatile and top choice. He is an icon in Cincinnati and would be perhaps the most exciting choice for that reason, but let us all remember the fates of basically every manager in history: the fans end up hating him and he is eventually fired. Hell, even Joe Torre’s separation from the Yankees was acrimonious. The man who becomes manager of a baseball team (or most any sports franchise of any sort) is destined for ignominy.
The Reds could instead hire an established veteran manager with a laudable pedigree, someone like John Farrell (already a scout in the organization) or Joe Girardi. Less likely is the option of hiring a younger unproven shake-things-up kinda guy like Aaron Boone in New York or Gabe Kapler in Philadelphia. Knowing Bob Castellini, I seriously doubt that is even in consideration. But in the end, I honestly don’t believe the weight of this choice is heavy enough to justify the considerable analysis it will draw. Whether or not the Reds remove the interim tag from Jim Riggleman’s title is actually of relatively small consequence, in my estimation.
Billy Hamilton is eager to get back into the lead-off spot. I think it is funny the significance that athletes attach to arbitrary roles like this, but human psychology provides no shortage of laughs in the general sense. I think Riggleman’s comments on it are instructive:
“Earlier in the year, if he gets up around .320, that’s what we want,” Riggleman said. “He’s moving in that direction. He does so many things for us. He’s a high-energy guy. His teammates rally around him.”
Billy has been swinging well of late and has his OBP up around .300 now. This directive from Riggs is clear and prudent: get on base at a better-than-average rate and we’ll talk. It is just about as unremarkable as a bit of common sense can be, but ask yourself when was the last time you heard a baseball manager speaking a lick of common sense?
Last week, Marty Brennaman mentioned a curious trade rumor that I think is worth discussing a bit. He said he had heard talk of a trade between the Reds and the Red Sox exchanging Billy Hamilton for Jackie Bradley Jr and Blake Swihart. Given how poorly each has hit so far this season, this actually looks like a pretty interesting challenge trade.
You know all about Billy, but perhaps Bradley is less familiar. He made the All-Star team in 2016 when he knocked 63 extra-base hits and played exceptional defense in center field. In the past season-and-a-half though he has hit just .227/.311/.369. He is eligible for arbitration again next season for his final go-around, just the same as Billy. I think he has more upside with the bat than Billy does, so I’d be happy to see if he can straighten himself out with a change of scenery. Swihart, meanwhile, is a young catcher with a good pedigree who hasn’t been able to establish himself at the big-league level. The way Curt Casali has hit in his brief tenure with the Reds as me thinking Swihart would be a bit superfluous, but it wouldn’t hurt to send him to Louisville just in case (though I’m not sure what his options sitch is).
Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic ($) looks at the burgeoning trade market for relief arms. (I saw someone somewhere put the dollar sign after The Athletic to signify that you need to pay for a subscription to read it and I love the notion that it is part of the name and title of the magazine so I like to put it there.) Rosey notes that Raisel Iglesias, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Amir Garrett, and Michael Lorenzen are all carrying ERAs lighter than 2.40 and all could potentially draw a steep price on the trade market.
This is one of the more intriguing story lines of the season, to my mind. The Reds could go in a number of different directions here, a broad spectrum from boring and conservative to bold and eye-widening. Iglesias is controllable for three more seasons after this, Lorenzen for two, and Hughes and Hernandez just one more. Garrett cannot be a free agent until 2024. One could make the argument that these guys will never be more valuable on the market than right now. Iglesias is one of the best young relievers in baseball and could command a handsome ransom in trade; Hughes and Hernandez are a pair of savvy free-agent bullseyes that could be flipped for a nice net-gain in short order. Lorenzen has always been talented, but he carries a pedestrian 4.33 career ERA and his arb clock is ticking. In isolation, there is a convincing case to be made to trade each one of these fellas.
But in aggregate, is it wise to dismantle an entire bullpen that has been such an Achilles heel for so long? I mean, it sounds really, really dumb simply on its face. But then again, where exactly are the likes of Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, Jose Lopez, Zach Weiss, and Keury Mella gonna pitch? Bullpens are really, really weird: they are so volatile that teams will pay a premium to get a known quantity. But because they are so volatile, there really isn’t such thing as a known quantity (just look at the poor, poor Rockies). These guys are throwing bullets right now, but there isn’t much to say that they must continue to do so tomorrow. In that case, isn’t it wise to sell high while you can? And furthermore, because they are so volatile, it is possible to get guys like Hughes and Hernandez on the open market at incredibly affordable rates.
I mean, everything in this conversation depends on what the Reds could possible command from other teams for these pitchers. Perhaps they never get a decent offer on any of them. But I think a maxim of baseball trade markets is that if you can convert volatile bullpen value into more stable lineup or rotation value at a reasonable rate, you always do it. At least, that’s why I’ll do when I’m finally given the title of President of Baseball Ops for the Reds.