June 22, 2005
Shuffling Deck Chairs
The Reds addressed about ten percent of their organizational problems yesterday by sending manager Dave Miley on his way and replacing him with bench coach Jerry Narron. Miley, whose hiring in 2003 was the result of a similarly exhaustive search, was pretty much a non-entity as a manager, most noted for his May tantrum that led to some comfortable chairs being removed from the Reds' clubhouse and his ongoing need to put Rich Aurilia's .280-odd OBP in the #2 slot.
Of course, Miley could have been the love child of John McGraw and Earl Weaver and not pushed this team over .500. While the Reds have a core of very talented players--the outfielders, Felipe Lopez and Brandon Claussen are a pretty good start--the team around that core has been assembled with all the care of a one-year-old distributing Cheerios at breakfast time. Dave Miley didn't sign Eric Milton and his rocket launcher to a three-year deal, and he didn't overcommit to Sean Casey and his Amazing GIDP Machine, and he didn't fail to resolve the four-outfielders-for-three-spots conundrum that has been in place ever since Wily Mo Pena emerged last summer.
Miley certainly wasn't an asset as Reds' manager, but firing him and allowing Dan O'Brien to continue on as GM doesn't move this organization forward. The Reds' problems are at the roster level, the organizational level, and changing the manager doesn't change that. O'Brien, despite his credentials as a "baseball man," has done precious little to advance the team since being hired in 2003. Baseball America recently ranked the Reds' minor-league system 23rd of 30, citing rampant injuries to pitchers. Their best position-player prospect, Edwin Encarnacion, was left at Double-A Chattanooga all last year and blocked by a free-agent signing (Joe Randa) over the winter.
For that matter, the problem extends upward from O'Brien. John Allen, who combines the worst traits of Carl Pohlad (penuriousness) and George Steinbrenner (vociferous and meddlesome). Allen cajoled the city and state into building the team a new ballpark, but he hasn't leveraged the new revenues into success, instead putting a bad team into the park and quickly squandering the goodwill that the new venue--which opened to considerable praise--created. The awful contracts the Reds have been saddled with, from Casey to Danny Graves on back to Barry Larkin's last, lamented deal, were distributed on Allen's watch, and those contracts were rightly criticized as bad baseball deals at the time. Allen, the chief operating officer of the team, has presided over an embarrassing descent into mediocrity, while deflecting criticism onto others at every turn.
Nothing much is going to change now, because there's not a dime's worth of difference between Jerry Narron and Dave Miley. Narron comes in saying all the usual things…"I want to see these guys play hard every second" and "We've got to concentrate on the little things." (Per AP reports.) It's New Manager 101, the same cliches that every backup catcher and veteran utilityman promoted beyond his skill set uses in an attempt to mask the idea that they have nothing original to offer. There's no baseball here, no ideas that might actually make a difference in how many games the Reds win. Just the tired notion that the team is failing because it isn't trying hard enough.
Effort isn't the Reds' problem. Effort doesn't push you from 75 wins to 90 wins. Only talent can do that, and the Reds' front office hasn't shown an ability to assemble talent, to mold it into a baseball team, to draft and develop it, or to stop putting obstacles in its way once it's in hand. The effort they need to see is from the front office, which made two of the biggest mistakes of the past offseason by signing Milton and Paul Wilson to contracts.
How lost are the Reds? They also tossed out pitching coach Don Gullett in the purge. Gullett has long been considered one of the best pitching coaches in the game, and is apparently being blamed for O'Brien's inability to see that Eric Milton would be a disaster in Great American Ball Park, or that Graves and his below-average strikeout rate weren't good candidates for a big-money extension, or that Ramon Ortiz isn't someone who can be relied upon for innings.
The Reds need more than just a new manager. They need new management. Anyone have $150 million and some time on their hands?