CINCINNATI >> The Reds stayed in-house for their next manager, giving pitching coach Bryan Price a three-year deal today to take the team deep into the playoffs.
The job carries enormous expectations for the 51-year-old Price, who has been one of the most successful pitching coaches in the majors but has never managed at any level. He and Triple-A manager Jim Riggleman were two in-house candidates considered for the job.
Dusty Baker led the Reds to three 90-win seasons and three playoff appearances in the last four years, but Cincinnati got knocked out in the first round of the postseason each time.
The Reds fired Baker with a year left on his two-year contract after a final-week fade that included an implosion by the pitching staff. Cincinnati lost its last six games, including a 6-2 defeat at PNC Park in the wild-card playoff against the Pirates. General manager Walt Jocketty said the closing slump was a major factor in the decision to change managers.
Baker led the Reds to their best stretch of success since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine to World Series titles in the 1970s. Price will be expected to keep Cincinnati winning deep into the playoffs in 2014 with the core of the team under contract.
Like Baker, he has an even-keel personality. Unlike Baker, he comes to the job with no previous managing experience.
“We’ve all seen his work here with our pitching staff,” Jocketty said in a statement. “He has proven himself to be an excellent communicator and leader and clearly is one of the most respected people not only in our clubhouse but in baseball in general.”
Price was a left-handed pitcher for six years in the minors, his career scuttled by elbow surgery. He started his coaching career in Seattle’s farm system and was the Mariners’ pitching coach from 2000-05. He moved to Arizona as pitching coach from 2006-09, resigning there after Bob Melvin was replaced.
Jocketty hired him to replace Dick Pole in Cincinnati, where he helped the Reds’ staff develop into one of the NL’s best during his four seasons working with Baker. Now, Jocketty has several important lineup decisions to make to try to keep the Reds competitive in the NL Central, which sent three teams to the playoffs.
Division champion St. Louis opens the World Series against Boston on Wednesday. The Pirates passed up the Reds for second place and home-field advantage for the wild-card playoff during the final week of the season.
The pitching staff will have some changes in the offseason, with starter Bronson Arroyo eligible for free agency after completing his contract. Left-hander Tony Cingrani made his debut last season and showed he could win in the majors, but was sidelined by back problems in September. Ace Johnny Cueto missed most of the season with shoulder problems.
The Reds have to decide whether to keep left-hander Aroldis Chapman as their closer or move him into a starting role.
The offense struggled last season with no consistent right-handed hitter. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder on a slide on opening day and missed most of the season. He hit only two homers after his return in mid-August, with the shoulder still bothering him. Brandon Phillips drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career, but no other right-handed hitter produced runs with any consistency.
Joey Votto and leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo led the NL in on-base percentage, but Choo is a free agent. Billy Hamilton created a sensation with his speed when he was called up in September, but struggled to get on base consistently in Triple-A before his first promotion to the majors.