By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — As the Cincinnati Reds plod toward regaining respectability and competitiveness, manager Bryan Price will make that journey with them.
Just prior to batting practice Friday night, the Reds announced that Price has accepted a contract to manager the 2017 season, with an option for 2018. And his entire coaching staff has been invited to return with one-year contract offers.
It won’t be a popular decision for some fans because the Reds have clinched last place in the National League Central for the second straight year and Price’s three-year record is 207-276.
Extenuating circumstances exist, the main one being that the team is in a rebuild process and Price has had to endure two years of debilitating injuries and a subpar bullpen.
CLUB PRESIDENT AND CEO Bob Castellini likes the comfort level of having Price stay with the young team that is being assembled.
“Bryan has been here seven seasons now (four as pitching coach and three as manager),” said Castellini. “He’s comfortable with the direction we are heading with our young players and we are comfortable with him leading us in that direction.”
Club executive Walt Jocketty gave the Price extension his endorsement, too.
“Three years ago we felt Bryan was the right person to help us move the organization forward and our opinion of him hasn’t changed,” said Jocketty. “While we haven’t produced the record we would have liked, we look at the youth of our team, particularly our pitching staff, and the unusually large number of injuries we’ve suffered over the last few years.
“We are very happy with the performances of some of the young players we’ve acquired over the last couple of seasons,” he added. “We’ve been particularly pleased with the production provided by Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler,” Jocketty added.
PRICE OBVIOUSLYO IS HAPPY with the one-year extension with an option after fulfilling an original three-year deal.
“We’ve been talking about this since the last homestand,” said Price. “We had a mutual desire to stay connected. For me it has been an unbelievable opportunity with a storied franchise. I really enjoy my coaches and my team.
“I could not be happier with my coaches and my players,” he said. “I love the way the players have hung in there through a challenging season. The fruits of that showed up in the second half.”
After a dismal beginning, the Reds started the second half playing much better baseball and entering Friday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs with a 35-35 since the All-Star break, probably saving Price’s job.
“WE’VE HAD A LOT BETTER won-loss record and a better statistical representation since the All-Star break,” said the 54-year-old native of San Francisco and a graduate of Cal-Berkeley. “When you talk about evaluating a manager and a coaching staff it is looking for improvements. You want to see improvements from the beginning of the season to the back side of the season.
“We saw that improvement, and not just in our won-lost record,” he added. “You look at the performances of the players and what we’ve done defensively, offensively and from a pitching standpoint, there has been improvement. And that’s a tribute to the players. As a staff we work very hard with these guys, but the players have to buy in and they have to show up to play.
“You have to love baseball to show up and play hard when you are in the situation where you are at the bottom of the division,” he said.
THE REDS STILL PLAYED HARD long after they were eliminated from even wild card consideration — it showed during the recent four-game series in St. Louis, where the Reds split four games, probably ruining the Cardinals chances to grab a wild card seat.
And of his popularity with the fans, he said with a smile, “I know the managerial position is a polarizing position. People want to see our team show significant signs of improvement. I think the second half is the first stage of our improvement with our club.
“From the team’s perspectrive about who was going to manage the team next year, I don’t think that was a quetion going through their heads,” said Price. “I do think seeing us intact and the probability of seeing us here for two more years is a good thing.”
PRICE IS CONFIDENT HIS coaches all will agree to return — bench coach Jim Riggleman, hitting coach Don Long, pitching coach Mack Jenkins, bullpen coach Ted Power, first base coach Freddie Benavides, third base coach Billy Hatcher and assistant batting coach Tony Jaramillo.
“I’ve made it clear I want them all back so I hope they all come to terms,” said Price. “I think everyone would like to come back and see us finish this off and get back to the other side and increase expectations and finish at the top of the division, rather than the middle or the bottom.
“During my tenure as manager we’ve been at the bottom of the division from a win-loss perspective,” he added. “Our challenges were different from the previous four, five or six years.”
And Price says he understands the negativity and the restlessness of the fans.
“I do understand the optics of it. There will be people unhappy, regardless of what we’re dealing with in trying to turn things around, in trading so many players, to keep control of our payroll, to get younger. It’s painful to go through and it is very typical for people to look directly to the field leadership to be accountable for the win-loss record. And I do feel accountable. But the environment we’re in challenges us at this point to win a championship. But I do feel we’re turning the corner and we’re on our way back. I do see it from the perspective of the fans and dealing with a losing record for three years.”