Baker Moved Phillips Back to Leadoff at Year End
Upon completion of a 97-win 2012 campaign the Reds did not waste any time extending manager Dusty Baker's contract through the 2014 season. With most of the roster expected to return for 2013, the Reds hope that he will lead his team to more success in 2013 with a deeper October run.
Even though most of the core of this year’s edition of the Cincinnati Reds is expected to return next season, every team will have some personnel decisions to make with expiring contracts. For the Reds atop the list was manager Dusty Baker. That decision was made early and he signed a new deal that covers the next two seasons.
Upon completion of the deal Baker will be the longest tenured Reds manager since Sparky Anderson. Brand new on his resume is a 97 win campaign, the most in Cincinnati since Anderson’s dominant 76 Reds swept through the post season by taking the NLCS and World Series in seven total games. Before Baker the only skipper since then to hold the job for five years was Reds legend Pete Rose.
Baker has completed nineteen years as an MLB manager with a 1581-1432 record. He’s gone 419-391 since starting with the Reds in 2008. As is the case with most new managerial jobs the talent level was low in Cincinnati upon his arrival. In 2007 the Reds had just come off of 90-loss season which had a midseason dismissal of Jerry Narron after a 31-51 start. Things weren’t much better in Baker’s first year on the job when they finished at 74-88. That saw the departure of veterans Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn who were traded to get some return before their contracts expired. The offense struggled the next season when the Reds finished in the bottom half of the NL in runs scored despite playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks and completed their ninth consecutive losing season.
Baker originally signed a three year deal to come to Cincinnati and that culminated with a NL Central division championship in 2010 and their first postseason appearance in fifteen years. That earned him a two-year extension amid the brightest future the franchise had seen in a long time. Unfortunately it did not carry over into 2011 when they finished at 79-83. However, they came back this year to show that 2010 was no fluke by turning in a regular season record that was only one win behind the best record in the major leagues.
Baker has the reputation as a “stand-by-your-man” manager and shown that he will often stick with veterans despite lackluster results. A recent example is aging star Scott Rolen who completed his second consecutive season with results below his established standard. Upon his return from the DL Baker continued to pencil him in the lineup over rookie Todd Frazier who had sparked the offense en route to gaining strong considerations for Rookie of the Year. Fortunately for the Reds Frazier was available to fill in at first base when Joey Votto missed the month of August. By the end of the season he was relegated to reserve duty splitting time with Rolen.
That kind of loyalty will certainly be appreciated by some players and can be a recipe for a lot of wins, as evidenced by this season. Given his history it is a bit ironic that he is not quicker to favor the “up-and-coming” players trying to prove themselves at the MLB level. Baker enjoyed a stellar career as a major league outfielder himself, but not before waiting until the 26th round for the Braves to select him in the 1967 draft.
Also puzzling with this year’s edition was their success despite the anemic on-base performance from the leadoff spot. Early in the year Baker moved the team’s most capable leadoff hitter, Brandon Phillips to cleanup. It was not necessarily an indictment that he felt leadoff was unimportant, but more that he felt Phillips was better utilized driving in runs from the middle of the lineup. Phillips was returned to the top of the lineup at the end of the year when Ryan Ludwick’s bat emerged after a slow start and Joey Votto returned from the DL.
There has been no shortage of scrutiny over Baker’s in-game decision-making, but then again there aren’t many managers that escape that. His “players-manager” style can be very successful if the players respond properly. If not, it can result in chaos and loss of control of the team. During his time in Cincinnati Baker has utilized rosters with a younger average age than he’d had available previously. Looking at the immediate future that roster doesn’t expect to change much, but it will be a year older in 2013. The Reds have tasted postseason twice and one would figure that should make them hungry for a deeper October run next year.
That’s not to say that GM Walt Jocketty won’t pull the trigger if he feels the right deal presents itself. He dealt three former first-round picks and last year’s opening day starter to shore up the rotation with Mat Latos. Latos responded with a solid season despite a poor April and if not for the presence of Cy-Young hopeful Johnny Cueto, he would be the unquestioned ace of the staff. It’s a given that both Jocketty and Baker are aware that the leadoff spot in the lineup combined for a .208 average (only .017’ higher than the ninth spot) and will look to improve upon that. Billy Hamilton is coming off of a successful season where he broke the minor league single season record with 155 stolen bases. However, the speedster figures to be at least one year away from MLB-ready.
Many might scoff at the idea that Baker is working on a Hall of Fame career as a manager. That criticism probably isn’t as strong among his players. His sixteen hundred wins rank him in the top twenty of all time and he’s been voted NL Manager of the Year three times while finishing second two other seasons with 2012 pending. His career is a bizarre one to evaluate with no shortage of skepticism, but on the other hand, no shortage of wins either. The one achievement that has eluded his resume is a World Series ring and the Reds will look to remedy that in 2013.