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Nightengale: Price Took Fall for Reds, a Franchise Stuck in Reverse

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The Cincinnati Reds fired manager Bryan Price just 17 games into the season. Photo: GREG LYNCH/ Dayton Daily News

By Bob Nightengale |

It was nine years ago when Bryan Price received adulation and respect throughout the baseball industry, abruptly resigning as pitching coach from the Arizona Diamondbacks when they fired manager Bob Melvin.

Price didn’t want to stay in an organization that he believed wronged his friend, who was fired after just 29 games, so Price walked away from his paycheck.

Now, here we are, 17 games into the 2018 season, and Price is fired even quicker by the Cincinnati Reds.

Really, only the timing is the surprise. If the Reds had fired him back in 2015, his second year on the job, it would have been understandable, with the Reds finishing last in the NL Central with a 64-98 record. It would have made sense in 2016 when they finished last with 94 losses. Or again in 2017 when they again lost 94 games.

The Reds kept bringing him back, saying their miserable record wasn’t Price’s fault, but just three weeks into the season, they changed their minds.

The Reds fired him late Wednesday night in St. Louis, after dropping to 3-15, and announced it to the world Thursday morning, promoting bench coach Jim Riggleman to be their interim manager. The Reds fired pitching coach Mack Jenkins too.

Yet, no one on the Reds’ staff resigned. Nobody else was re-assigned. It was Price and Jenkins alone taking the fall for a franchise stuck in reverse.

“At this time, we felt a change needed to happen in order to begin the process of getting this team back on the right track,’’ Reds GM Dick Williams told reporters. “We realize it is early in the season, but feel it is important to be proactive.

“We will continue to examine all aspects of baseball operations to ensure we are doing everything we can to improve.’’

In an era where the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have proven that tanking works, the Reds exemplify a rebuild that backfires.

They may have the sixth-best farm system, according to ESPN’s rankings, but you need a telescope to find the light at the end of this tunnel. The NL Central still runs through the powerful Chicago Cubs. The St. Louis Cardinals are a perennial contender. The Milwaukee Brewers are contending and building at the same time. And the Pittsburgh Pirates, who just traded away former MVP Andrew McCutchen and All-Star ace Gerrit Cole, are sitting in first place.

Somehow, the Reds misplaced the blueprint.

Hunter Greene, their first-round pick of a year ago, may be drawing his pension when the Reds finally become World Series champions again.

“We’re very focused on creating a sense of urgency for these guys to win now,’’ Williams told Cincinnati reporters. “We talk about rebuilding and there are things going on away from the field and in the farm system and investments in the franchise that are part of that rebuilding process. But when guys show up for work every day, they need to have a sense of urgency to win that day.

“Nobody here feels that Bryan or Mack is a scapegoat for what happened. It’s just that’s the first step in the process of making this right and trying our best to fix things.”

Well, they could bring Sparky Anderson, Connie Mack, Joe McCarthy and Walter Alston back to life, and it’s not going to change this team’s fate.

The Reds, off to their worst start since the Great Depression, have the league’s worst pitching staff and have scored the second-fewest runs in the league, outscored by a league-high 46 runs. Injuries have left them without prized starter Anthony DeSclafani, third baseman Eugenio Suarez and right fielder Scott Schebler; left-handed starter Brandon Finnegan has been limited to one start.

This is a franchise that has had major-league leading 32 players make their major-league debut the past three seasons, and a rookie pitcher start 254 of 504 games the last four years, but no great signs of development, keeping them mired in last place.

Go ahead, you try to name any player on the team outside Joey Votto, a proud franchise steeped in tradition that drew just 65,000 fans last week for their four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, where they were swept, losing 27-10.

The Reds don’t need cosmetic change, but a full-scale makeover, entrusting Williams to make the most vital decision since he became GM in 2016.

He is turning to Jim Riggleman for now, a 65-year-old baseball lifer whose first major-league managerial gig was 26 years ago in San Diego, and is now in managing his fifth major-league team. It figures to be just an interim job.

The betting favorite and the sexiest name for the permanent job is clearly Barry Larkin, the Hall of Fame shortstop, who’s now a special assistant to Williams. He has no managerial experience, but then again, neither did Aaron Boone, Alex Cora, Mickey Callaway or Gabe Kapler, all hired this winter.

If he wants a man with a glossy resume, the two logical choices are John Farrell, fired last year by the Boston Red Sox, and Joe Girardi, fired by the Yankees. Farrell is already in the organization as a scout, and Girardi is on the MLB Network, each with World Series championship rings in their jewelry box.

If they want a man who could not only be valuable on the field, but a huge asset in scouting and development, it would be Yankees vice president Tim Naehring, GM Brian Cashman’s right-hand man. Naehring, a Cincinnati native, is so well-respected in the Yankee organization that Cashman has basically told him he could have any job in the organization he desires.

So, it breaks down this way:

People’s choice: Larkin.

Safest choice: Girardi or Farrell.

Up-and-coming choice: David Bell, farm director of the San Francisco Giants, and son of Reds senior advisor Buddy Bell.

Easiest choice: Riggleman.

Smartest choice: Naehring, if they can somehow talk him into it.

Stay tuned. It promises to be a long summer in Cincinnati, but for the first time in year, it’s about to be interesting.

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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