Baker Ends Tenure With Reds

After their loss in the wild card game the focus of the Reds front office turned to next season. It didn't take them long to determine that they wanted a new manager going forward. Dusty Baker led the Reds to three 90-win seasons, but went 2-7 in the postseason. Owner Bob Castellini and GM Walt Jocketty will now search for someone they feel can lead the team to the next level.

There was a lot of disappointment with Cincinnati fans after the Reds departed early from the playoffs and their front office must have been among them because Friday it was announced that Dusty Baker would not return as their manager. Baker assumed his position as their skipper in 2008, his third stint as a MLB manager, and after a couple of sub-.500 seasons he led them to their first postseason appearance since 1995. They continued that success and this year's appearance in the wild card play-in game was their third trip to postseason in four years, including two NL Central Division championships.

Unfortunately one goal that eluded them was the same one that he's failed to accomplish in twenty seasons as a manager: a World Series championship. Even though the Reds didn't match their 97 win total of 2012 they still didn't have a bad season. They contended with multiple injuries and a tougher schedule in a division with two other postseason teams that no longer included Houston. In the end it was probably their lack of success finishing the season that influenced the decision. Baker was 2-7 in the postseason and the Reds stumbled to six consecutive losses to end this year including four in a row to Pittsburgh.

Baker has been a "stand-by-your-man" manager and numerous players have expressed regret that he will no longer be with the team. He's never been bashful to make decisions both in-game and filling out a scorecard that have left many fans scratching their heads. His main asset, one that will never be captured in any statistic was his way to connect with players in a manner with which they respond successfully on the field. Evidently it was felt that his methods have taken the Reds as far as they can and it's time for someone new to take the helm.

Of course one quick question is who will succeed him. Statements indicate that the Reds will commence a search soon and a couple of names on their list are pitching coach Brian Price and AAA skipper Jim Riggleman. When considering the improvement from the Reds pitching staff since Price's arrival it's difficult to ask anything more from a coach's resume. There must be a desire in the Reds front office to keep him in the organization and giving him the head job on the bench may protect against other teams coming after him with similar openings. Riggleman has finished up a 69-75 season at Louisville and has gone 662-884 over portions of twelve seasons with four different teams.

Meanwhile the 64 year-old Baker will ponder new goals for his immediate future. He probably did not expect to be faced with this situation until at least one year from now because his last contract extension included another $3.5 million to run the team in 2014. He's had success with all three teams he's managed, taking them into postseason and narrowly missed a championship ring as manager with the Giants when they lost the seventh game of the World Series in 2002. He has been selected as NL Manager of the Year three times and won a ring as a player with the Dodgers in 1981.

Baker has been criticized for a reluctance to integrate young players into his lineup which is a curious reputation for a manager in a small market like Cincinnati which is dependent upon getting contribution from younger, less expensive players out of their farm system. Also, one might expect him to be quick to give a shot at a late-round draft pick since he waited until the 26th round before Atlanta drafted him in 1967. Four regulars in his current lineup, Jay Bruce, Zach Cozart, Todd Frazier, and Devin Mesoraco all made their MLB debuts during his time in Cincinnati. < br>< br> On paper he had a well-rounded team this season, strong pitching, solid defense, and a rebuilt lineup that finished third in the NL in runs scored. However, as good as his offense performed, it was capable of undergoing slumps during the season and finished with a lackluster ending during the final losing streak. That's not a good thing for a manager who earlier in his career developed a reputation as one of the game's leading hitting coaches. Comments from Baker indicated that ownership also wanted to part ways with current hitting coach Brook Jacoby. The team has made strides offensively since last season but much of that could be credited with adding Shin-soo Choo from outside the organization to man the leadoff spot. Ultimately whoever is selected as the new manager will have a big influence on next year's coaching staff.

Though often maligned the organization is in a much better state as Baker departs than it was when he began. No doubt the main reason for that is an upgrade in talent that ownership has put on the field. Price was a big part of that while working with a pitching staff that has become one of the best in the league. The offense is a bit of an enigma because at first look they were putting enough runs across the plate to win, which they did, but in spite of that could not be considered reliable enough to make a deep October run. They did strike out some, fifth most in the NL, but a couple of teams with more, Atlanta and Pittsburgh are still playing.

Whichever way it shakes out will be a new era in Cincinnati. Whoever assumes the position will be much better off than most new managers because the talent is there to win immediately. Often small markets have to catch lightning in a bottle and have a limited window of opportunity to cash in on a championship while they can still retain their talent with a limited payroll. The Reds do have several key players under multi-year contracts and some prospects in the farm to fill in vacancies when roster spots turn over. Though it appears Cincinnati has done a good job setting itself up to win now and sustain it going forward, winning now is obviously the top priority. The Reds' "now" is 2014 and in the opinion of many of their fans it won't hard to do better at manager, both Chicago and San Francisco increased win totals first year after Baker left. However, many don't recognize that he does bring some qualities not captured on paper that often gets players to respond positively, at least until his final six games with the Reds, so doing worse than Baker is within the realm of possibility.

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