GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Reds manager Bryan Price goes into this season in one tough situation. The Reds lost 98 games last year, then traded a couple of their best players in the offseason, and Price is in the final year of his contract.
Instead of taking a woe-is-me tact, Price is looking at this as a perfect situation for him.
“This is an ideal place for me to manage,” he said. “I love to coach. I love unifying young people into accomplishing great things. I couldn’t be in better situation.
“I don’t lose any sleep over contract status at all.”
Managers who manage to keep their jobs will often end up looking for another one.
“I’ve never wanted to force people to like me,” he said. “They’ll evaluate me on the job I do and make the decision on what to do when they make that decision."
But Price is not naive. He knows the Reds face a difficult task this year. They are playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Gone from last year’s Opening Day roster are the No. 1 and 2 starting pitchers, the home run leader and the closer.
In return for the trades of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, the Reds got a major infusion of talent -- much of it not ready for the big leagues for now.
For Price to survive this year, he’s likely going to have to be judged on a standard other than wins and loses.
“We should have an expectation on what the manager is able to get out of the ballclub, and I should be held accountable to that,” he said. “We should play hard every day. We should get better. We should be a better team at the end of the season than were were at the beginning of the season.”
The task begins Thursday with the first pitchers-and-catchers workout. Price spent the first part of the week putting names with faces. That hasn’t been easy with all the new players.
“I think we should be wearing those ‘Hello, I’m...’ name tags,” Price said. “There’s a kid today I met quickly. I shook his hand. I have no idea who he is. I was looking around on the sheet trying to figure out who he is.”
With all the new players, Price will approach things differently this spring.
"You look at the fact we’ve not just had a 25-man roster turnover. We’ve really had a 40-man roster turnover," he said. "We’ve added a lot of new players, not just from our system but from outside the system that we’re getting to see as a major league staff for the first time.
“The responsibility is to make sure all these young guys understand our expectations as an organization on how they prepare and how they play the game. Make sure they’re doing it the right way.
“From a wins-loss perspective, we’re not picked to do anything. Our goal is to be the team nobody wants to play because of that aggression and the attention to detail. The youthful exuberance of going and playing baseball at the major league level.
“There will be a lot of youthful exuberance.”
Seventeen players on the 40-man roster were not on the 40-man when camp opened last year. Price will adjust accordingly. The youth is part of that. Another part is the game has changed. Offense is down.
“Spring training will look a little different as far as we prepare,” Price said. “I think the game is changing to the point where the 3, 4 and 5 hitters aren’t going to drive in all the runs. I think we’re getting back to where we’re not having the 50- and 60-home run seasons. You’ve got to appreciate every run and make the most of every run-scoring opportunity — the things we used to see a lot more in the 70s and 80s. The bunt. The hit-and-run. Putting more pressure on the defense instead of relying on pure power production.”
With the lack of proven big-league talent, Price says it’s key for the Reds to get that little extra out of the players they have.
“If you can just get a little bit better in each thing that you do, the dividends will pay themselves out over the course of the season,” he said. “I don’t plan to spend a lot of time talking about last year because that’s a year we’d all rather forget, but our goal is — not only the young players, but with the veterans players, too — to find every possible way to get every bit of ability and performance out of each player.”
During spring training, that may mean doing two fundamental drills a day instead of one, which is what teams traditionally do.
“There will be a lot of attention to detail,” Price said. “We have to use these six weeks to introduce expectations and create the habits we want these guys to follow.”
Price joined the Reds as pitching coach in 2010. That’s the year when the Reds snapped the string on nine straight losing seasons and began a good four-year run.
“This may look a little more like 2009 or 2008,” Price said. “Coming into an organization in 2010 that had all that pitching talent was exciting because I like to teach. We talked about that in our room with our coaching staff.
“We love to teach as a group. There’s not a better environment anywhere for baseball than in Cincinnati if you love to teach. I believe wholeheartedly in that.”
But Price knows that, eventually, the wins have to come.
“I don’t think we take this — you may call it a step back — unless we were excited about the near future of the organization. I feel we’ve accumulated an exciting group of young players like we were starting to see in 2009, 2010, 2011 in Cincinnati. The only thing the Reds fans don’t know yet is they’re not familiar with the names and faces. They will be.”
The key is to make the most of the window with the young talent.
“When you have all these talented young players, you want to seize the opportunity and make sure that these guys become the group that they can be,” he said. “That’s a great responsibility to have.
“But I love it. I love this stuff.”