The Reds made it official, promoting pitching coach Bryan Price as Reds manager. One thing stood out for me during his introductory press conference, Price used the word "unity" quite a bit. He stopped short of intimating the 2013 team wasn't unified. He never implied that. What he did add is its important for the team to be held "accountable" for giving its maxim effort every day for the Reds fans that pay for a ticket. He said it's not just from the coaching staff but the players holding themselves accountable to one another. That may be the key to what went wrong during the 2013 season.
Being held accountable by your teammates is something former Red Scott Rolen did very well, and while he had diminished returns on the field in his last few seasons, one can certainly draw a connection between his absence in the locker room this year and the lackluster finish the Reds had. Whether that appearance is actual or just a coincidence, we may never know. Remember, I, like most of you, follow this team from my living room couch. However I read and watch as much as I can on this team and I view them through the lens of journalist, which is how I make my living. Still, the reason Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty traded for Rolen in 2009 was to bring leadership to the locker room. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips all credited Rolen for the intangibles he brought to the team. It was thought that would be the legacy he imparted to that aforementioned core group; and yet, it seems to me like none of the three stepped up down the stretch when the Reds looked lethargic.
It goes to reason that perhaps one of Bryan Price's top priorities this Spring Training is to have Votto, Bruce and Phillips take that next leadership step and carry on the torch that Rolen passed to them. Yes, I include Brandon Phillips. Because despite all the media speculation about their being a "For Sale" sign around his neck, the reality is - one - it's difficult to move his contract, and - two - the Reds would suffer defensively as second base. And when plays aren't made defensively, who pays the price? The pitching staff. And what was Bryan Price's job title before being promoted to manager? Pitching coach. Plus, despite all the baseball scribes telling you how Phillips had his worst offensive season. He did knock in a career-high 103 runs, and many fail to mention how he was one of their few consistent clutch hitters at the plate and he played through a bruised forearm for much of the second half of the year.
Now I'm not saying Phillips won't be traded. For all his interaction with the Reds fans, beat writers will tell you he is not well liked in the clubhouse and that Brandon is out for Brandon. However he doesn't have to be your best friend for you to win. I seem to recall Rose and Bench not being BFFs. Sure his comments this year in Cincinnati Magazine calling Reds ownership "liars" (when it came to his contract negotiations) I'm sure didn't sit well with President and CEO Bob Castellini. But he had to know what he was getting when he signed Phillips to that multi-million dollar deal, and you don't chuck an important cog in your company's success to the curb after one year of that contract because of one inappropriate remark. Especially if you were the one who forced Jocketty into signing Phillips in the first place. Those things can be ironed out. It will be interesting to see, if Phillips isn't traded, what the relationship will be like with his new manager. Brandon was one of the guys Rolen I'm sure held accountable and it will be interesting to see if Price can convince him of assuming more of a leadership role, along with Votto and Bruce.
Now that the Reds ship is being captained by a new skipper, the off season work for Jocketty and his staff is about to begin. They face some hard decisions. Truthfully, despite the drafting and developing and the spending during Castellini's time as owner, I wonder whether I shouldn't just turn in my Reds gear for a Cardinals cap. Because I don't know how Cincinnati or any team in the NL Central will ever overcome St. Louis.
I know that sounds defeatist, but it's hard to keep the faith versus the cold hard reality. The truth is the Cardinals are the Yankees of the National League. During Reds current GM Walt Jocketty's tenure (1994-2007), St. Louis won 7 NL Central Division titles, 2 NL Pennants and a World Series. Current Cardinals Adam Wainwright, Allen Craig and John Jay were all drafted or traded for under Jocketty's watch. And since Jocketty's departure the organization hasn't missed a beat under John Mozeliak, who was hired in the scouting department by Jocketty.
The Cardinals have won 2 division titles, 2 pennants and a World Series under Mozeliak's guidance. This year's NL Champ is made up of 17 players drafted by St. Louis, 4 free agent signings, 3 acquired via trade and one international signing. Guys like Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams were all drafted under his tenure. Mozeliak made the shrewd move of trading fading star center fielder Jim Edmonds to San Diego for third baseman David Freese who won the 2011 World Series Most Valuable Player award. It was Mozeliak who didn't bend to the contract demands of the franchise's greatest player of the last 50 years, Albert Pujols. Instead letting the 3-time NL MVP walk to sign with the Angels. His compensation, the 19th pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, some guy named Michael Wacha. I don't hear any Cardinals fans crying over the loss of Pujols anymore.
It's success like that both Castellini and Jocketty have been trying to duplicate. Three playoff appearances in four years is a good start. But to get over the hump, they'll need top prospects Billy Hamilton, Robert Stephenson and Nick Travieso to step up and contribute soon; and quite possibly Jocketty must know when to cut bait with current stars Votto, Bruce, Phillips and Cueto.
As fun as it can be to play arm-chair general manager of a baseball team, the task of trying to overcome the Cardinals juggernaut is a daunting one.