A quick trip over to FanGraphs to check out a few team batting statistics left me cracking my knuckles and rushing to my keyboard earlier today. If you take things all the way back to the beginning of the 2017 season and sort by fWAR, you get a pretty predictable ranking of how each team’s total position-player production has stacked up against the rest of Major League Baseball over the last 250+ games, at least at the very top.
Topping that list, as you’d expect, is the Houston Astros, winner of the 2017 World Series and currently in the driver’s seat in the AL West with an imposing 64-35 record. Next up are the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, juggernauts in their own divisions again this year after making to their respective league championship series in 2017. Then, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians, the first the loser in the 2017 World Series to Houston and the latter the 2016 runner-up (who also made the playoffs in 2017 and are in position to do so again this year).
A funny thing happened when I reached the #6 spot on that list, though. I read it, read it again, re-sorted the column to make sure I hadn’t screwed something up, and went back for a
second eighth cup of coffee.
Now, none of this was meant to be an essay on the merits of fWAR, where the Cincinnati Reds have a strength, or why. No, I’ve been itching for a visual representation of something I’ve been attempting to highlight for a few weeks now, and finally had a light bulb moment when I stumbled across this little nugget of information.
You see, unlike any of the powerhouses that sit 1-5 on this particular list, the Reds have themselves a managerial opening to fill between now and the start of the 2019 season. And what’s so danged intriguing about these particular Reds is that there’s not a single free-agent-to-be among their position player corps, either. Pair that with the decreasing odds that Scooter Gennett gets shipped away at this particular July trade deadline, and what becomes clear is that whoever is in charge of the club in 2019 is going to walk into a ready-made set of position players that’s already built to go toe-to-toe with the best lineups in all of baseball - and we haven’t even mentioned Nick Senzel, the #4 overall prospect in the game according to Baseball America who will absolutely debut for the Reds beginning in 2019.
If you’re a managerial candidate out on the market right now, that’s an incredibly enticing selling point. That the Cincinnati front office can pitch having an everyday 3-4-5 in their batting order that’s fresh off two dingers and a HBP in the All Star Game carries initial weight, but the backing of the rest of the lineup behind those three is nearly as big of a bonus, too.
A quick perusal around the MLB standings allows you to begin to figure out which other teams might have managerial openings this offseason, too. Just a smidge behind the Reds in those fWAR standings are the St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, who already fired former manager Mike Matheny - and they sport a pretty dang good overall lineup. Beyond them, however, things become even more rosey for the Cincinnati job’s sales pitch. In fact, most of them rank so far down the list that they don’t even show up in that screenshot, with ‘them’ being the likes of Baltimore, Toronto, and other clubs down in the standings who’ve had the same managers for several years - and heck, the Orioles already lost Manny Machado while the Blue Jays stand to lose Josh Donaldson this winter to free agency.
Yes, it’s vital to mention that there is more to baseball, and certainly more to hiring a manager than a good, controllable lineup. There’s the pitching issue, which has obviously dogged the Reds for most of their franchise’s existence, for instance, though the bullpen portion or that is also mercifully in solid shape for the first time in ages. There’s the market size, which Cincinnati doesn’t exactly lead the world in, though management’s insistence that payroll will be going up beginning next year is a pretty good thing for a potential manager to hear. There’s also how much the farm system can help the big league club, either by influx of talent or by providing stars via trade, and it’s hard to say there’s a more talented top three prospects in any system in baseball beyond what the Reds have in Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Taylor Trammell at the moment - plus there’s a Top 10 overall system behind them with a great mix of depth.
We’ve not yet mentioned Jim Riggleman’s name in this piece, though the interim Reds manager has certainly had good success since taking over for Bryan Price back in April. In part, that’s because the sample size I used for that relative production from the position players dates all the way back to the beginning of 2017, showing that the production from the everyday regulars isn’t something that was just created from thin air by Riggleman. That aspect has been effectively ‘rebuilt’ for some time now, though the gradual maturation of the starting pitching options and the revamped bullpen of 2018 has certainly produced much more winning than in the awful 2017 dog days.
Riggleman has certainly done enough, so far, to warrant consideration for the Reds job for 2019 and beyond. The confidence with which the team has been playing is the best its been in a half-decade, and there’s certainly something to say for that. However, the entire blabbing I blabbed through to begin this piece was meant to lay out just how prized the Cincinnati job might look to every single managerial candidate out there this winter, and rest assured, there are some highly qualified options.
John Farrell and Joe Girardi are out there, and both have won World Series titles in their managerial careers. Buck Showalter will likely be out there, too, as he wraps his final year under contract while the Orioles front office continues to operate like a dumpster fire. Barry Larkin’s name continues to loom large among many, and while that’s something I’d prefer not to happen, it’s an option that will likely at least get a look. Other coaches who have risen through the ranks across MLB and have gained significant notice in previous job searches like Sandy Alomar, Jr., Gary DiSarcina, and Chris Woodward should all be legitimate candidates, too, and the Reds have enough leverage on their hands with their current situation to owe it to fans, and themselves, to vet all of them.
I’d like to compare the small-market, long overlooked Reds situation right now to where Cleveland was in 2012, since that obviously resulted in Manny Acta’s dismissal, the hiring of a big-name manager in Terry Francona, and a sudden jolt from 68 wins to 92 wins and a playoff appearance almost instantly. While that level of instant re-branding and the immediacy of the success is likely out of the question, the concept of it is exactly what both the front office and any would-be manager out there hopes to pull off when pen hits paper on a contract’s bottom line. And for the Cincinnati Reds at the moment, they might be the single most promising, ripest chance on the market for that to happen at the moment, which might well give them their choice of manager come winter.