The Case For Keeping Bryan Price

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You’ve probably heard by now the news that Bryan Price will return as Reds manager in 2018. If you’re like most Reds fans out there—or at least, the portion of Reds fans who care enough about the club to read baseball think-pieces on the interwebs—you’ve probably also expressed an opinion about that news.

I don’t know what the latest polling says, but if my twitter feed is any indication, lots of Reds fans are highly upset that Price will remain in charge of the hometown nine next year. Irrationally angery, in some instances. It’s really astounding to see.

Here’s an amalgam of the most common sentiments about Price returning: “Third straight year in last place! FYRE PRYCE!!!”

To which I say: meh. I can’t get worked up about it. Seems to me the Reds made a reasonable decision. Of course, if the club had decided to part ways with their manager, I wouldn’t have lost any sleep over that, either. Price hasn’t exactly distinguished himself, but on the other hand, I’m not sure that the evidence is there to justify firing the guy.

In some ways, I can’t believe we’re still talking about this. Almost exactly two years ago, right here in black and white pixels at Cincinnati Magazine Dot Com, I wrote about the expectation that Price would be fired after the 2015 season:

On the other hand, I am willing to take a stand where Bryan Price is concerned. Yes, the Reds have been bad during Price’s two-year stint in the managerial office. Make no mistake, however: the mess that this club finds itself in is not Bryan Price’s fault, in any way, shape, or form. That’s not saying that Price couldn’t have done a better job, of course. He’s not infallible. But I’m just not quite sure his performance justifies being summarily dismissed at the end of the 2015 season.

This time around, I don’t really have the energy to put together an enthusiastic defense of Price. I’ve lost patience with his ludicrous lineup construction, for example. (There is no justification whatsoever for batting Billy Hamilton and/or Jose Peraza at the top of the lineup. Period.) My opinion is that he’s probably just an average manager. There are better skippers in the majors. There are a lot worse.

But right now, we can’t really know if he’s much better than average, because he hasn’t ever had a roster to work with. I actually want to see what he does with a real team at his disposal.

Or maybe I’m clueless—shut up, you back there in the peanut gallery—because there are plenty of fans out there who believe without a shadow of a doubt that Price is the worst manager in baseball. Seriously, go look at the #FirePrice hashtag on twitter if you want to see some of what passes for quality analysis among Joe Redsfan.

For those of you who think Price should be fired because the Reds have been in last place for three years, I have one question: What precisely were you expecting?

Reds management told everyone that they were in a rebuilding process. I’m baffled that anyone is surprised that the Reds have lost a lot of ballgames during that rebuild. As Joel Luckhaupt put it: “It’s amazing how, three years into this rebuild, there are some that still don’t get that losing was part of the design. Fans can be mad & tired of losing, but blaming the manager for failing with a roster that was designed to fail is weird.”

Again, what did you expect? And how is it Price’s fault? To Groundhog Day myself again, here’s how I put it two years ago:

Over the last two seasons, Bryan Price has been handed a roster that was as thin as Billy Hamilton’s waistline, and he was ordered to go win. If everyone had remained healthy, there’s a good chance the Reds would have won these last two years. If Jocketty didn’t insist on forcing Price to play with, on more than one occasion, a 23-man roster, maybe I’d have more sympathy for the FIRE PRICE brigade.

What has changed since then? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except that the Reds went even deeper down the rebuild well, and provided Price with even fewer legitimate players. In fact, when has Price had anything approximating a full roster to work with?

Pop quiz, peanut gallery hotshot: which 2017 Reds pitcher leads the team in innings pitched? Here’s a hint: it’s not one of the five pitchers the Reds expected to have in their starting rotation on Opening Day.

It’s Tim Adleman.

Bryan Price has had a roster this season that forced him to pitch Tim Adleman more than any other pitcher on the club. Adleman, in fact, has thrown 40 more innings than anyone else on the active roster—and the guy behind him on the list, Luis Castillo, was in Double-A two months ago! (And the guy behind Castillo is a reliever, Michael Lorenzen, if that gives you any idea about the state of the 2017 Reds rotation.)

Are you seriously trying to tell me that it’s Price’s fault the Reds are in last place? No, Price is not the problem with this team, as GM Dick Williams indicated this week:

“Our organization understands that rebuilding is difficult and often unpredictable. This year, the challenges we faced were once again magnified by significant injuries to [our] starting pitching. We didn’t have the resources to replace the injured starters without pushing some of our prospects faster than we would have liked. In fact, we opened the season with seven rookies, which was a first. Our staff did a nice job of handling the adversity, while continuing to develop players.”

Of course, none of this means Price is necessarily the solution, either. I’m really not inclined to defend him. But what has he done to deserve firing, other than the typical day-to-day complaints made by hardcore fans of every single team about every single manager during every single game? He has his strengths and he has his weaknesses, but in the aggregate, there is very little evidence* to suggest that he’s different than most other managers. At some point, the Reds thought he was the right man to manage the club. The players continue to play very hard for the guy. Perhaps they should give him a shot to manage a team that has a decent roster?

*Publicly-available evidence, that is. The Reds have more information than the rest of us. They may have perfectly good reasons to believe that Price is the right guy to lead the team out of the rebuild.

I fully expect the Reds to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a competitive club next season (more on that in the next couple of weeks). And if the Reds can find a better manager than Bryan Price, they should go hire him immediately. Because chances are, Price isn’t going to immediately become Sparky Anderson just because he has someone better than Adleman to put on the mound.

But be careful what you wish for…by my estimation, the Reds have had, what, maybe three above-average managers in the last half-century? Meanwhile, the same fans who are calling for Price’s dismissal were the same ones who have loudly and vociferously begged the Reds to fire whatever unfortunate soul happened to occupy the Reds’ manager’s office before Price.

Fire Dusty Baker! Before that, it was FIRE JERRY NARRON. And do you remember Dave Miley? And Bob Boone. And Ray Knight. And on and on and on and…

Bryan Price will likely be fired someday. All managers are, eventually. But what’s the harm in giving him a chance with a more competitive roster than he’s had to date? If he falls on his face with a better roster, then he will have deserved his ultimate dismissal. And Price acknowledged as much:

“You should get what you’ve earned,” Price said. “Since I’ve been the manager here, we haven’t been real competitive. That shouldn’t put me on sound footing as the manager. What should, is that especially from 2017 to 2018, is that we make significant improvements or they will have to look and see about the direction of the club.

Give Price what he’s earned: judging him solely on the things he can control. That seems fair enough to me.

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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