If he makes it through September, Bryan Price will have been the manager of the Cincinnati Reds for four seasons. Four long, losing seasons. The stats on Price’s Baseball-Reference page don’t inspire confidence. His Reds teams have had a winning percentage of .424. The fourth-place finish in the division in 2014 will be Price’s high-water mark.

Last September, the Reds took the unusual step of extending Price’s contract for one year, with a 2018 option. The aroma of temporizing wafted all the way up to Findlay Market. The front office, going through its own transition, concluded it wasn’t the right time to install a new manager. Retaining Price signaled the club wasn’t expected to be good in 2017 – not much of a revelation.

Managers generally don’t accept one-year contracts. And clubs don’t offer them. It took a rare intersection of interests to produce Price’s most recent agreement. If the Reds thought Bryan Price was the right guy to lead the team into the rebuilt future, they’d have locked him up with a multi-year contract. If Price had the leverage of better offers elsewhere, he’d have driven a tougher bargain. Re-upping Price in 2017 was a short bridge to 2018.

Now, here we are a year later, with the Reds facing a similar situation.

Price’s balance sheet

Based on all the criticism we give them, you’d think major league managers have a significant impact on wins and losses. They don’t. The quality of the roster and the players’ health are the two largest factors in a team’s success.

It’s just as wrong, though, to say managers have no effect. The vast majority fall in the broad middle. Most guys that reach the level of big league manager have mastered the basics of communication, organization, strategy and people skills. Every skipper makes good decisions and bad decisions in every game. Their tactical choices win a few and lose a few.

The net effect? A small handful of games one way or another each season.

Is it possible that Bryan Price will be a great manager? Sure, there are examples of managers who start with a couple bad years then go on to be Hall of Famers. But they are the exceptions. For every Joe Torre there are dozens of Ray Knights, Dave Mileys and Jerry Narrons.

The idea of promoting Bryan Price to replace Dusty Baker had a reasonable foundation. The 2014 Reds were primed to continue their successful 2010-2013 run, presenting a better-than-usual argument for continuity. Price was one of the most respected assistant coaches in the game. He was familiar with the Reds’ roster and had the support of the players who spoke out at the time. Other organizations were eager to hire Price as manager if the Reds hadn’t. He seemed open to new ideas and held out the promise of taking a fresh look at ancient managerial practices.

The fact that Bryan Price has survived four seasons is a testament to nothing more than low expectations for the club since 2015. To be sure, rosters and player health have been the primary factors for the Reds last place finishes, not Price’s batting order or bunts.

It’s telling that the front office doesn’t offer a full-throated defense of Bryan Price. “Well, his team wasn’t any good” or “boy, they sure had a lot of injuries” and “they kept playing for him” aren’t ringing endorsements. Given the poor rosters and litany of injuries, it’s impossible to know whether Bryan Price can manage. At some point though, excuses collapse as reasons to keep doing the same thing over and over, bringing to mind clichés about insanity.

Price has largely adhered to Old Testament managing (if not church-going language) and lineup construction. The main exception was his muchcelebrated experimentation with unconventional bullpen use. That revolution lasted two weeks. Sure, Price is a little more flexible in using his bullpen than Dusty Baker. That’s like being less stubborn than a mule. And then there’s all the, you know, losing.

The short term

The Reds decision on Bryan Price’s option will reveal their ambition for 2018.

The standard practice for rebuilding teams is to wait until they’re ready to win to hire the manager they expect to take them to the postseason. Note the timing for bringing in new skippers for the two heralded, recent rebuilds. The Cubs hired Joe Maddon in 2015, the season they went from 73 wins to 97. Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria sucked up the bad years in Chicago. In Houston, the Astros hired A.J. Hinch in 2015, when they jumped from 70 to 86 wins. Bo Porter and Brad Mills managed the 100-loss Astro teams. Hire the shiny new guy when you’re ready to win. Make a clean break.

Bryan Price is the Reds’ Rick Renteria and Bo Porter. It’s difficult to imagine Price managing The Next Good Reds Team. If the front office follows a similar schedule, picking up Price’s 2018 option means the front office doesn’t think big losing is quite over. It would allow them to take advantage of another one-year deal.

And Bryan Price will have wriggled under yet another low bar.

If, however, the Reds don’t pick up Price’s option, it means one of two things.

It could show the Reds are truth-serum serious about winning in 2018. That they’re ready to bring in their Maddon or Hinch.

On the other hand, it’s also possible the front office anticipates another losing season but concludes Bryan Price isn’t the right guy to handle young players and prioritize rebuilding. Dick Williams recently highlighted Price’s development of pitchers as a point of evaluation. A one-year contract with an option to a new guy – like Jim Riggleman – would be a tell for an ongoing holding pattern.

The long term

Beyond the fate of Bryan Price and 2018, how the Reds handle hiring a new manager will reveal if they’ve learned important lessons from past mistakes.

Major League Baseball is changing rapidly. It’s more than the mountains of new data. A bloodless revolution has taken place in player evaluation and understanding what it takes to win. People who were experts just ten years ago would be lost now if they haven’t kept up with the game’s modernization. Far more important than manager changes, the Cubs and Astros began their rebuild cycles by bringing in new, modern-thinking front offices. In the first half of this decade, the Reds were slow to recognize this.

Instead, the organization became insular. Ownership chose Walt Jocketty to run the club based on familiarity and without a broad search. After a few years of success, resistance to change caused the Reds to fall behind the more nimble Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates. Intransigence also deepened the rebuilding pit. Jocketty’s recycling of former Cardinals became a punch line as well as competitive failure. Nostalgia for 2005 proved to be an unsound operating principle. The parochial pattern of hiring internal candidates was repeated with Bryan Price and Dick Williams.

The good news is that the Reds have begun modernizing their organization, not only at the top but also at its base. From scouting to minor league coaching to injury prevention to a bigger and more influential analytics department, the organization is innovating. The question now is whether the new leadership will adopt a more sophisticated hiring process for the next manager.

They have a glaring, recent example for how not to do it.

When the Reds had to find a replacement for Dusty Baker, it had been a long time since Walt Jocketty had hired a major league manager. His search prior to that pre-dated The Simpsons and DVDs. When Jocketty hired Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, the Grateful Dead had just broken up. Neither Ken Griffey, Jr. nor Alex Rodriguez had started their major league careers. 18 seasons had passed since Walt Jocketty had gone through the process of finding a new big league manager. Despite all that had transpired in the sport over that time, Jocketty interviewed only one person for the Reds manager job, an internal candidate.

“I was convinced that Bryan was our guy just because of the past association we’ve had with him,” Jocketty said at the time, revealing more than he intended.

At a minimum, the front office could have used a broad search to hear the strengths and weaknesses of their own organization from the perspective of others, as well as learn new best practices of winning clubs. Listening to a half-dozen smart outsiders offer detailed analyses of the Reds roster could have helped break down their bias toward the familiar and reveal blind spots. For an organization with a recent history of insularity, there would have been gigantic value in hearing how other successful organizations operated. But the Castellini-Jocketty team, looking ever inward, didn’t care. They cut the process short, hired Bryan Price, and seemed proud of the brevity.

It’s possible that Price was the best choice for the gig. But the Reds had no way of knowing that, since they hadn’t talked with anyone else. It was a perfect example of how the culture of narrowness can be debilitating. The front office couldn’t imagine that an outside candidate might have impressed them even more than Bryan Price. That’s a huge process failure.


The basic win-loss trajectory of the Reds has little to do with who their manager is. The front office gets that. It’s why they brought Bryan Price back in 2016 and again in 2017. We might yet see Price in 2018 if decision makers think the Reds remain a year away from a winning record.

Know this: There is no guarantee the next guy will be better than Bryan Price.

But the hiring process has to improve. Dick Williams must operate by a principle contradicted by his own hiring and that’s not easy. He’s proven to be thoughtful and demonstrated a willingness (even eagerness) to cast off traditional ways as he remakes the Reds. His inclination to scrub the organization’s practices, top to bottom, and spend money to fix them while the major league payroll dips for a few years is tremendously encouraging. Williams should carry that over to important job searches.

Barry Larkin, for example, might be the best fit to manage The Next Good Reds Team. But when it comes time to replace Bryan Price – whether that’s this offseason or the next – the Reds would be well served by a legitimate, wide-open search, with lengthy interviews of external candidates.

Bryan Price’s 2018 option is the undercard. Finding the right next guy is the main event.

36 Responses

  1. Redgoggles

    I’m sure that I’m in the minority here, but I would like to see what BP can do with a roster comprised of (all) major leaguers. The lack of starting pitching development among the various player options has been the single most disappointment of 2017, highlighted by the need caused by injuries. I’m still unsure of how much of the blame BP deserves. For all the up and coming starters to really disappoint, is that the blame of BP or of the draft/development within the organization? And if this rebuild is kicked down the road for a few more years, what better manager option would be interested in the job? I say extend him for 2018, extend Feldman, stretch out Lorenzen for insurance against Disco/Finnegan/Bailey injuries. Aside from Castillo – and that’s still a big maybe – I’m not seeing anyone who I feel comfortable holding down a rotation spot for the entire 2018 season.

  2. jazzmanbbfan

    Your description of Walt Jocketty’s approach to hiring Price as manager fits well with the thinking a long long time ago about Cincinnati or as I think it was Mark Twain who said: “If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati, It’s always 20 years behind the times”.

  3. ScottyA

    Good analysis of the situation. When a team is on the verge of winning, the pool of managers that a team can select from becomes a bit larger. Can we win in 2018? I think the answer is yes, but it would take a trade for a top end starting pitcher. I’ve decided that I don’t think now is the time (winning in 18′) largely because we need to see how all the injuries play out. (Bailey, Finnegan, Desclafani). All the young pitchers settling into their most productive spots, i.e. starter or bullpen, closer or long relief (Reed, Stephenson, Lorenzen, Garrett, Romano, Davis) And it gives us time to sort out short stop and second base (perazza, blandino, Herrera, Long and Senzel etc.)

    To use your word, once this is all “sorted” out we will then have a large pool of productive players that we can trade for upgrades at (SS, Starting Pitching, CF or whatever is needed). So 18′ may need to be another year of sorting and I would be ok if we keep Price.

  4. Sliotar

    If I was in Dick Williams’ shoes, especially with the family ties, I would tell ownership not to start judging me until the 2020 season, at the earliest.

    By that time, his changes in the Reds’ drafting/playing development/organizational structure can be seen and analyzed.

    Additionally, the Bailey and Mesoraco contracts will be off the books. Not the players’ fault, but the Reds are among the smallest of small markets. Williams would surely like to show he can take that $30+ million (25% or more of yearly team payroll) and get more player production for it.

    If the team is in the playoff hunt this time next year, great. MLB teams can always be a short-term buyer for a playoff push. That 2015 Cubs turnaround is a severe statistical outlier, however. I can’t see Williams, with his MBA education, risking his Reds GM career betting on that occurring.

    Unless Williams finds a guy he loves, keep the placeholder guy and keep sorting, drafting and remaking the entire organization.

    • Geoff

      How long are we going to allow the excuse of rebuilding to continue?! I’m so sick of it! The Cardinals never rebuild… they are contenders every year. This organization is just an inept failure.

  5. IndyRedMan

    I’m a big proponent of the quote attributed to Einstein. Def of Insanity…blah blah blah. I know you guys stick w/Marvin Lewis & Dalton year after year after year…..but I want/need a new face next year! We’re 4.5 behind the Pads and they have NOTHING! They play 1/3 of their schedule against LA, Colorado, and Arizona. Steal their guy away! Anyone really? Just no more Price. Is he the real problem? No…not really but he’s not part of the answer either. Big Bob will cut him loose…I’m 80% sure of that. He has to look like he’s doing something. 4 years and 10 under .500 is the best you can do?

    • Sliotar

      We likely would not know for sure, but if Big Bob forces Dick Williams to fire Price, it would just further the perception of the Reds as an insular, cronyistic (is that a word?) and Mickey Mouse organization, compared to the top ones in MLB.

      Dick Williams should view this as Year 1 of his personal rebuild. If he did not secure that understanding with ownership, then shame on him. He needs time and a free hand to get this team up to the level of other MLB teams, on and off the field. And, he should have the autonomy on deciding who the manager is.

      Williams may not be the guy to get the Reds to be sustainably competitive. However, we likely will never know if ownership or Jocketty is already forcing his hand on things.

      • jazzmanbbfan

        I thought one of the writers (Steve maybe?) had written several months ago that in the short time DW has been in charge, the Reds have upgraded their talent pool in the front office. That would be one indicator to me that he is being given some opportunity and resources to improve the Front Office. I would guess if he wants to fire Price today or in October, he will be able to.

  6. james garrett

    Price will be back next year because there are so many question marks on this team.If you knew Homer,Disco and Finny would return healthy next year then it would be different.The unknown gets Price another year watching the fort until the new guy shows up.Great article Steve but are you sure the batting order and bunting don’t make a difference.Just kidding of course but it sure gives us something to holler about doesn’t it?

  7. Brock

    Actually A, A+, and AA all had over .500 records in the first half. The Dragons were 2nd in their division and The Blue Wahoos finished first in their division, which means both are playoff teams. Players are developing as these teams show, it just takes time to see it at the MLB level.

  8. spaulson50@gmail.com

    Price has an excuse due to horrible Starting Pitching. No Manager could overcome the Reds SP this year. However, he’s so predictable. Always rolls out the exact same lineup even when change screams from the Upper Deck. Plus he never wavers from calling for a bunt. Drives me nuts. Loves giving away outs. A different approach and voice is needed.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Nor overcome the Reds’ bullpen last year.

  9. jazzmanbbfan

    I think everyone is speculating after seeing him sitting with the owner recently.

  10. Big56dog

    Just curious if there is any correlation in successful AA and AAA season being precursor to ML success?

  11. TR

    I would assume Jocketty’s role is a typical old guys position of Consultant. The question is consulting about what that the newly designated GM cannot handle.

  12. TR

    With the unsettled situation regarding the young potential starting pitchers and the state of the injured pitchers, my guess would be the option for Bryan Price will be picked up for 2018, although I hope that’s not the case.

  13. Jack

    Exactly! And if Riggleman is given a 1 year contract will he resign half way through and take his ball home because management won’t extend him? You can’t blame price on this mess. This is all on Jokety. What makes me laugh is how everybody wanted Baker fired and how they better hurry up and sign Price because Arizona might sign him. Well they got him and now they can’t stand him. How about all the people at the beginning of the year talking about Arroyo. Oh he is a great guy . They need to sign him and be the Bronson of 2013. How did that work out?

  14. jazzmanbbfan

    I’m 99% certain Price was the only person they interviewed.

  15. brandonofcb

    LaRussa was managing the A’s in Griffey Jr.’a rookie year; 1989. The following year his Oakland team was swept by the Reds in the World Series.

  16. David

    Castellini is a Reds traditionalist, so I am thinking he still wants Barry Larkin as Field Manager. Barry is a smart guy, but he has publicly eschewed the use of advanced metrics in player performance analysis.
    I don’t think the Reds will give Price a premature heave-ho, but I don’t think he will be renewed for 2018.
    WVRedlegs summed it up best above. But I would ask how much Price is actually in coordination with Dick Williams and the Front office. The talent provided has not been great, but what was the expectation on using the Youth, as opposed to what has happened? I sometimes thought that Jocketty was really on a different page than both Dusty and Bryan Price. Bryan does seem a little more in tune with Dick Williams. But really can’t tell. In a rebuilding phase, I think the Field manager and the Front office really have to be coordinated (better) to realize the goals of a rebuilding team; sacrifice wins for young player development. This is hard on the fans, and hard on the team (losing), but it should lead SOMEWHERE.
    Indeed, I would blame the present mess we are in on Jocketty more than anyone else. Poor roster management. Too many Skip Schumacher type players, no young player development at all.

  17. DavidTurner49

    Thanks for another great piece Steve, but what I really want to know is whether you were alluding to Merle Haggard in your first sentence.

  18. Michael E

    I think the biggest impact is being positive with fragile young players (some aren’t fragile) and encouraging them to keep working at it. I am not sure Price exudes enough confidence (in himself as well as his players) to be the glue that leads a pack of young players to meeting most of their potential.

    A rah-rah cheerleader alone won’t do any better, but we need someone the young guys can respect AND feel good about walking up to them and getting answers or tips or help or, when necessary, chewed out a bit.

  19. Mike windsor

    Well it’s been 4 losing season I don’t think another manager can do worst than that.so I bring in Barry Larkin and hope to win in September and reds fans be feeling good again .🎉📣🔮⚾

  20. Phillip

    Running pitchers out to the mound who have physical problems instead of giving them some rest and rushing pitchers back from injuries is the main problem the reds have. They had a former pitcher openly tell the media this fact after he was traded. The critics blasted the former player and now you should realize he was right. Scott Feldman will likely be the next guy on the 60 day dl. They ran him out to the mound with a leg so sore that he obviously couldn’t come close to keeping his balance. You want to keep losing with big loss numbers, just keep landing your pitchers on the 60 day dl.

  21. Diehard Reds Fan

    Our drafts have stunk, the medical staff can’t seem to get it right, management have jacked some of these young guys around by not showing confidence in them. AKA Garrett and Stephenson. How do pitchers spend years in the minors tweaking their craft and haven’t developed four pitches they have confidence in. How much does the catcher and scouting report play in setting up batters. Why hasn’t Lorenzen been placed in the rotation, when have we seen enough of Billy Hamilton and realize he’s not going to be any better at the top of the lineup,
    The Reds staff is a fastball, change up and slider staff. No imagination when it comes to getting hitters out. Like a ball under the chin every now and then. How about a great curve or splitter. Or a knuckle curve guy. Or how about a basic 95 mph fastball at the knees consistently. Romano’s horrible. Throws across his body, Falls off the mound. Who thinks this guy can get it done. Deserves a come on man.
    Here’s a rub on the ” Price is Right “. Tuesday evening, bottom of the fifth. Pitcher leading off, Reds are down 4 zip if I remember right. Pitcher should have never batted. Be letting him lead off, our manager is sending the message to our team we’re not going to do anything this inning to get back in the game. Says it all.

    Our boy Rigglemen shouldn’t even be on the staff. He quit on his team in Washington.
    Enough said on him. Shame on anyone who brings his name up,

    Hmmm. Who coined the phrase ” We’re just not going to lose anymore ” Hows that working for us.

    • Derek Bryant

      The last two drafts have not stunk at all. Hunter and Senzel are great players. For you to label them as bad drafts is not accurate at all. They have had 2 great drafts in a row!

  22. Derek Bryant

    I do not expect Reds to compete next year, so I would bring Price back again. No need to change managers.

  23. Brian Davis

    Im not saying that Price is the right guy for when the rebuilding is considered to be complete but even though i question some of his decisions i find no fault of this season on Price. The front office has done nothing to make this team better,as a matter of fact,lots and lots of weapons have been taken away from him,you know the names,i dont have to repeat them. Price hasnt been given a fair shot with an even decent team to field. What great manager is going to want to come to Cincinnati when the last guy was fired for not being able to succeed with a bunch of minor league guys,Votto and scrap heap guys. If they still are not winning when they start to turn the corner on the rotation then fire him but until then he deserves the benefit of the doubt.


    Let’s be realistic and accept the Reds will not be competitive in 2018 or 2019. There are just too my holes on the roster. The pitching is the worst in baseball and will not be fixed in 2 years. Bryan Price is not the problem. There is a good chance he will be terminated because management will want to look like they are doing something. It is a lot easier to fire a manager than find 25 players who can play winning baseball. Going outside to hire a manager will mean many of the coaches will be replaced as the new manager will want to surround himself with “his people”. Change is OK but this rarely leads to success if the talent on the field remains the same. I have always felt the Reds would go through 2 mangers after firing Price before they became competitive. It would be a nice story if the Reds stuck with Price through the time they became competitive with a decent roster. The chances of this happening on slim to none. Dick Williams deserves several years to fix the problem. Scouting and player development suffered under Jocketty. It will take time to fix it. Bryan Price and Reds fans are paying the price for this.

  25. Brian Davis

    I for one am totally against the Reds giving the job to Barry Larkin. Larkin is one of my favorite all time Reds,a HoF’er,and a Cincinnati icon but i dont want another Tony Perez situation. Face it,even if he was successful as Reds mgr and they won a WS or more than 1,sooner or later managers get fired and i dont want that onthe Reds history or on Larkins baseball career. Perez was bad enough but Larkin stayed in Cincinnati for his career in an era when that is very rare,firing him as mgr somewhere down the line is no way to repay the loyalty that Barry showed his hometown,the Reds organization and Reds fans.


    Better yes. Elite is a bit optimistic.

  27. Jeff Morris

    Great Job, Steve. Your post here is right on!