With roster in flux, Price's managerial style on hold
Besides likely losing Choo and Arroyo to free agency, Reds may move Phillips
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cincinnati Reds will be a different team in 2014. This much we know. But the degree of difference is all in the details, and it's hard to know how many details are yet to be revealed.
That's why Bryan Price didn't always have a direct answer to questions Monday about his managerial philosophies, because the truth of the matter is that such philosophies are shaped by personnel, and the Reds' particular personnel layout is still very much in flux.
Come Opening Day, Price will be in the seat once inhabited by Dusty Baker and Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo will be elsewhere. Perhaps, if some emotional bridge has been burned and there is worry on the Reds' part about what the trade winds have wrought for their second baseman, Brandon Phillips will be elsewhere, too. General manager Walt Jocketty hasn't entertained any offers for Homer Bailey yet, but, don't worry, they'll be just a phone call away, if pursued.
So while the situation Price inherits is an enviable one, it's also a fungible one, which is why his approach to this position is fungible, too.
"To answer those philosophy questions is challenging," he admitted after his first Winter Meetings Q&A. "I would have probably, five years ago, been way more traditional. But I've used all the technology and all the information that's out there to our benefit. So I've evolved."
The Reds are evolving, and this is a matter of necessity.
For whatever reason -- and Baker was, indeed, scapegoated as a big one -- they neither equaled nor exceeded the sum of their parts in 2013, a season that ended, perhaps appropriately, with a lackluster showing on the Game 163 stage.
To say the Reds underachieved is an understatement. To say Price expects otherwise in 2014 is a no-brainer.
"I love our team, they're a great team," Price said. "[But] I think they need to find a little bit more of that grind. And I think we need to resonate with our fan base that we're not that team that may take games or stretches of games off where you don't understand the importance of every at-bat, every score, every inning that we need to throw."
Attitude is one thing, but personnel is the most pressing matter at hand. And thus far, the Reds' tinkering -- two-year deals for Skip Schumaker, Manny Parra and Brayan Pena -- has mostly been more of the low-profile variety.
This, naturally, is the product of a payroll pulled to its extremes -- a reality the Tigers have also been met with this winter.
The Tigers have acted accordingly, gaining salary relief by losing Prince Fielder and Doug Fister to become a team more defensively adept and less top-heavy in the salary tally, to go with a manager young and pliable enough to adapt. What they do with their reformed salary situation remains to be seen (they might turn out to be the ones who poach Choo), but Detroit's situation is not terribly dissimilar to that in Cincinnati.
That's why the market for Phillips, who is due another $50 million over the next four years, was explored so thoroughly early in the winter and why those gathering in the lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort this week wonder if the Phillips possibility will ignite again, especially given the Yankees' gaping hole at the position.
Phillips is the sensitive sort (the bitterness he expressed to Cincinnati Magazine last summer over playing second-fiddle to Joey Votto in the extension game is proof … and is, of course, one reason ownership might be inclined to ship him elsewhere), and the rumors and rumblings about his future in Cincinnati (or lack thereof) have undoubtedly affected him in some fashion.
Enough to impact his play? One would hope not. But in a market in which the Yanks, Royals and Dodgers could all use assistance at the position and Omar Infante and Mark Ellis stand as the most attractive free-agent options still available, it would be malpractice on Jocketty's part to not explore all options.
Price is exploring all his options, as well, albeit on a much different plane. He's entering this opportunity with an open mind about in-game strategy, and that could extend to his use of Aroldis Chapman.
No, Chapman won't be starting games. That payroll-maximization scheme long since sailed.
The Reds' competitive standing painted them into a place in which there was never a strong enough argument for stretching out Chapman and, ergo, compromising his potential late-season contributions. Next thing you know, three full seasons have elapsed, Chapman has taken a liking to the late innings and the reasons, both rational and sabermetric, for changing his course have been effectively refuted.
But Price could still make the most of an inefficient allocation of funds and unleash Chapman in more creative ways than Baker once did. And while he stops short of confirming he'd consider using his best reliever in, say, a high-leverage situation in the seventh, Price does seem to be open to the idea of expanding his influence.
"One of the things we talked about is in those situations where he is the best guy for that situation -- maybe in the eighth and ninth or a portion of the eighth and ninth -- that could be something we would definitely consider, based on how we're matching up the last couple of innings," Price said. "I don't know if I would really want to make it a hybrid role, [but] there are probably times or games where you have to say, 'Hey, go for it.'"
This is the kind of forward-thinking the Reds might need to counter their losses. Losing Choo, in particular, is a huge blow to the on-base ability at the top of the order (unless Billy Hamilton is spending his winter devising ways to steal first base). One way Price could adapt to that loss is to do as several other skippers have done in recent years and bat his stud - in this case, Votto -- second to set up RBI opportunities for Phillips (assuming he's still around), Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick.
That would certainly seem to be a wiser course than asking the uber-patient Votto to mess with his approach, as so many have suggested.
As it stands, Price doesn't want to divulge his lineup ideas.
"I do [have a lineup in mind]," he said, "but I don't want to go over that."
Right now, there's no need. Because right now, the Reds are still a team in flux.
But if they go into 2014 looking drastically different -- in makeup and in mindset -- than they did in 2013, that won't necessarily be a bad thing.