Just days after stating that Dusty Baker would likely return (via Fox Sports) to manage the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, general manager Walt Jocketty flipped the script, relieving Baker of his duties on Friday morning, according to the Associated Press.
After six years in the Cincinnati dugout, Baker is out. During his tenure, the Reds won 509 games, including 90 or more in three of the last four seasons. On average, the Baker-led Reds were an 84-78 team, but clearly trending upward during the second half of his tenure.
Now, in the aftermath of their National League Wild Card Game loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, in which franchise second baseman Brandon Phillips said the team "choked" (via Hardball Talk), Cincinnati joins the Cubs, Yankees, Mariners and Nationals as franchises in search of managers for 2014 and beyond.
While the Baker news will take time to settle for Reds fans, the front office, led by Jocketty, must begin the search for a replacement.
Here are five candidates to replace Dusty Baker as Cincinnati Reds manager in 2014:
Despite continuing talks between Girardi and Yankees management, the AL Manager of the Year candidate is still set to be a free agent at the end of April. If a snag in the talks with New York halts discussions, Cincinnati would be foolish not to call Girardi's agent.
Although the World Series-winning 2009 season is difficult to top, Girardi's performance in 2013—keeping the Yankees in a postseason race until the final week of the season despite injury and poor roster construction—was quite impressive.
With experience managing in the National League with the Marlins, switching leagues and adapting styles wouldn't faze Girardi in the slightest. He would be expensive, but worth it for a Reds team trying to get over the hump in October.
Furthermore, there's a direct connection to Walt Jocketty. In 1994, during Jocketty's brief stint as Rockies assistant general manager, Girardi was on the active roster as a catcher.
Baker's pitching coach, Price, would be the obvious in-house candidate to take over if Cincinnati wanted to keep the leadership within the confines of the current clubhouse. After interviewing for the vacant Miami Marlins managerial position last winter, it's clear that Price has interest in making the leap to lead man in the dugout.
Price has served as major league pitching coach for 13 seasons, presiding over some excellent staffs in Seattle (2000-2005), Arizona (2006-2009) and Cincinnati (2010-present). During those years, his teams have qualified for the postseason six times.
Outside of the homegrown offensive duo of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, the strength of the Reds roster moving forward looks to be pitching. With guys like Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani and Aroldis Chapman locked up at least through next season, Price can continue to work with the arms he's helped develop.
When Riggleman resigned from his spot in Washington's dugout during the 2011 season, his career as a major league manager seemed to be over. In the midst of a contract squabble, Riggleman walked away from one of the most talented young rosters in recent memory.
Now, he's resurrected as a minor league manager in the Reds farm system. Despite only owning one career postseason appearance as a manager (1998 Cubs), he's managed four different franchises (Padres, Cubs, Mariners, Nationals) and could present his case as an older and more mature manager than he was in his previous stints.
If Cincinnati headed this route, it would remind me of what Terry Collins was for the Mets prior to the 2011 season. Although the situations are different in terms of talent and expectations, Collins was a manager that didn't win in the past and had a reputation as being difficult to deal with. He aged, mellowed and, despite a losing record in three seasons, was rewarded a new contract earlier this week to remain in New York.
Riggleman won't excite the fanbase, but he's a realistic candidate from within the organization.
Although Gallego doesn't appear on managerial candidates lists every time there is an opening, his long playing career and coaching experience should garner him interest, especially from an executive who was once part of the organization that developed him.
Currently serving as the third-base coach and infield instructor for the back-to-back American League West champion Athletics, Gallego's relationship with Walt Jocketty dates back to the Oakland organization in the '80s and early '90s.
During the 1980s, Walt Jocketty served as the director of minor league operations and scouting for the Oakland Athletics. Long before he would become a major league player or coach, Gallego was one of the players scouted, developed and cultivated by a Jocketty-run office. Years later, when Jocketty moved on to run the show in St. Louis, a veteran Mike Gallego served as a utility man for the 1996 and 1997 Cardinals.
The relationship is tenured, and Gallego has proven to be a more than adequate coach in Oakland. If afforded an interview, he could win the job.
With family ties to the Reds organization (brother of Mike Bell, son of Buddy Bell and grandson of Gus Bell, all former Cincinnati players), coaching experience with the 2013 Chicago Cubs and the Reds' minor league system (Triple-A Louisville and Double-A Carolina), the former major league infielder and Ohio native makes too much sense for Cincinnati to overlook during this process.
If his credentials and ties to the organization aren't enough, there's also a tie-in with Jocketty: From 1995-98, Jocketty's first seasons in St. Louis, Bell was part of the roster.
At the age of 41, Bell is the youngest candidate on our list, but many teams are embracing young and unproven managers in recent years. Houston's Bo Porter, Miami's Mike Redmond and Chicago's Robin Ventura have all been hired over the past few seasons before the age of 45. In 2006, the Marlins hired Joe Girardi at the age of 41.
When Bell lacks in age, he makes up for in baseball bloodlines and ties to the Reds organization.