Bryan Price: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

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Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s late-October, and I’m the General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds. (First, take a moment to recover from the horror of learning that the Reds have handed GM duties of your favorite club to an unqualified baseball writer.) One of the big decisions I’ll have to face this off-season is regarding next year’s field manager of the club. Bryan Price’s contract just expired at the end of the 2016 season.

In other words: Is Bryan Price going to be fired as the manager of the Reds?

Over the All-Star break, my predecessor in the GM position, Walt Jocketty, had this to say about Price: “I think he’s done an excellent job. This has been a tough first half for anybody, but especially the manager trying to field a competitive club every night and piece together a pitching staff that has been broken most of the year and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up…I think the guys are still playing well and still playing hard and that’s a big part of what he’s responsible for.”

Well, Jocketty is gone now (or at least, he’s moved up the chain and is no longer calling the shots day-to-day, as will happen in reality after this season), and I have to decide whether Price should be brought back in 2017. Picture it: I’m along in my corner office. The telephone is off the hook, the computer is shut down, my cell phone is turned off. I want no distractions, and besides, I’m getting tired of Joel Luckhaupt calling to tell me he has a great knuckleball and wants to try out.

I ask myself: What are the arguments for and against bringing Price back in 2017? Time to pull out my trusty legal pad and a pen, and begin making a list of pros and cons.

Arguments in favor of bringing Price back in 2017:

  • The Reds are 30-25 in the second half. That’s a .545 winning percentage which, if extrapolated over a full season, would equal 88-74. Not bad!
  • The Reds have the fourth-best record in the National League since the All-Star break. If the season started on July 11, the Reds would be in line for the first wild card spot! (Note: The season did not start on July 11.)
  • The team is mostly still playing hard every night, and Price has to get some of the credit for that.
  • Price has occasionally thought outside the box, such as when he has put Joey Votto in the #2 spot in the lineup, or when he batted Billy Hamilton ninth. Not many managers would be willing to do those things.
  • Price is still the guy who was perhaps the most well regarded pitching coach in baseball for more than a decade before becoming manager. The Reds have a boatload of young pitchers coming down the pike, and Price may be particularly well-suited to guide them as they learn to pitch in the big leagues.
  • There are signs that Price has helped young pitchers to progress under his command: Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Dan Straily (forget Cody Reed for just a moment).
  • Some young position players have made progress under Price as well: Hamilton, Tucker Barnhart, Eugenio Suarez…even Adam Duvall, if you want to call him young.
  • The current mess cannot be blamed on Price. He took over at the beginning of a rebuilding process, and has not been given a competitive team to work with since his first day here, thanks to the roster upheaval and injuries to key players (Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco, etc.). It’s just not his fault.

Let’s scrawl a line down the page and make another column, shall we?

Arguments in favor of firing Price:

  • In two-plus years at the helm, Price has managed the Reds to a record of 201-266.
  • Last year, the Reds lost 98 games, the third-highest total in Reds franchise history.
  • He embarrassed the franchise by unleashing an epic tirade against local media, memorably dropping 77 f-bombs in the process. And his “apology” was ludicrous. The whole episode gave the appearance of a manager who was in over his head.
  • His use of the bullpen leaves much to be desired. No one could have done anything about the sheer awfulness of the ‘pen in the first half (thanks to injury, there were mostly lousy arms out there). But until very recently, Price insisted on keeping everyone in their “role” in the bullpen. That’s led to him using Alfredo Simon and Ross Ohlendorf in close games, and there is NO excuse for that.
  • He criminally under-utilized the best reliever in the game—Aroldis Chapman—when he had him.
  • He batted Brandon Phillips third far too often.
  • When the team needed him to help develop a young guy (Jose Peraza) who might be a significant piece of the rebuilding process, Price instead left the kid to rot on the bench for days at a time. Is this the right guy to guide the franchise through a rebuild?
  • Yes, he was a great pitching coach, but is it possible that Price has risen to the level of his own incompetence? Is the Peter Principle at work?
  • We are happy that the Reds are winning more in the second half, and Price has to get some credit for that. But how do we reconcile that with that miserable game last week? The one when Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley said, “It’s almost like they’re sleepwalking.” Mets announcers said it was the worst performance they’ve ever seen from a big league team, and I have to agree. The Reds looked disinterested and sloppy.

Take a look at those lists, and make your decision. Here are our three options:

  1. Sign Price to a multi-year extension to manage the club.
  2. Sign Price to a one-year deal.
  3. Thank him for his service, but terminate his employment.

Time to make the big decision. First, let’s mark #1 off the list; no way Price is getting a multi-year extension. So, as the GM of the Reds, I choose…to bring Price back for 2017.

Probably.

If that’s what the Reds choose to do, it’s very likely to be an unpopular decision. If you were to scroll through the Twitter mentions for Redleg Nation on most nights, you’d see that there are a lot of very vocal Reds fans who think Price should have already been fired.

And you know what? There are very good arguments that Price should be fired. Yes, he has had certain roadblocks (players traded away, injuries) placed in his way, but Price certainly hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself as a big league manager, has he? It’s likely that no one will argue if Price is fired. No one will complain. Few will come to his defense.

But what’s the point? What does firing Bryan Price accomplish?

Well, from a PR standpoint, firing him might signal to a beaten-down fan base that things are going to change around here. I suppose there’s some value in that. But if you’re going to fire Price, you’d better be able to get the right guy in here to manage the Reds in 2017 and beyond.

And that’s why I’d bring Price back. Who is going to volunteer to manage the Reds next year? This is likely to be a bad team again in 2017; do you think top-shelf managers are going to be lining up to take the job? Why would they?

Barry Larkin? Give me a break. Larkin is too smart to take over right now and risk his legacy in Cincinnati.

The Reds have a long-term plan in place, and the prospects are starting to emerge on the big-league scene that will be the cornerstones of the next good Reds team. The Reds will need someone to manage them. If Dick Williams (the real GM who will make this call) can go out and get the manager who can lead the team into the next window of competitiveness, he should absolutely do it. If he knows the next Sparky Anderson, by all means: fire Price and hire that guy.

That’s what it comes down to: Can you get someone better to come in and manage a team that has lost 90-plus games for two consecutive years? Because you can certainly get someone worse.

That’s what I worry about. Price is what he is. He’s probably, at best, an average manager. Price has his faults, and I can’t sugarcoat that. But I lived through the Bob Boone era. I watched guys like Jerry Narron and Ray Knight bumble their way through miserable seasons. You don’t like the way Price handled Chapman? Well, good luck finding a manager that will do it differently; 95% of major league managers (or more) handle their bullpens similarly.

In many ways, Price is a generic, cookie-cutter big league manager. No, he isn’t Sparky Anderson or Bill McKechnie or Fred Hutchinson…but he’s better than Bob Boone and Ray Knight. If you think you can improve on Price, you’d better make sure it’s an actual improvement. And I’m very skeptical that the Reds can convince anyone better than Price to come take over the club in its current state.

Most likely, Bryan Price isn’t going to be the manager of the next playoff contender here in Cincinnati. So the Reds should present him with a one-year contract—which I’m guessing Price will be willing to accept, since he doesn’t have other big league managerial opportunities knocking down his door—and see what he can do with next year’s team.

Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, with a full roster that is starting to fill up with actual talent, we’ll gain a better idea of what Price can do. Maybe he’ll prove up to the job. Since the All-Star break, with healthy players (and some of the new young guns), Price’s Reds have certainly been fun to watch, if nothing else.

Or maybe Price will just keep the seat warm, and help some young pitchers develop in the meantime. Then the Reds can conduct a search for a new hotshot manager to take over a 2018 team that should be on the verge of being pretty good.

I’ll happily imagine myself in that role, too.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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