Alright, I admit it. All of my fellow Reds fans (not to mention many snickering Cubs fans) who have been insisting that Dusty Baker is the wrong fit for this team… you’re right. As the defending Central division champs sit four games under .500 at the All-Star break, it’s time for a change of leadership in Cincinnati. For the good of the team, Dusty Baker must be let go, and soon.
Baker’s not a terrible manager. He’s been to the World Series with the Giants and to the playoffs with the Cubs and Reds, so it’s not as if he’s Russ Nixon. But a credible argument can be made that Baker just doesn’t have the managerial acumen to manage a successful club over an extended period of time. If you watch this Reds team perform this year, that is abundantly clear.
Dusty’s chief talent and his biggest weakness is his unwillingness to make changes. While a manager can’t be listening to every caller on the radio who wanted Francisco Cordero cut before the season even began, he also can’t be so stuck in his ways as to allow complacency to set in. This season is a little more than halfway finished and Baker has endured prolonged slumps from his left fielder, Johnny Gomes, his centerfielder, Drew Stubbs, and BOTH his shortstops, Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria. He’s also done this while Chris Heisey has performed at almost every opportunity in the outfield and still languishes as a backup and Zack Cozart tore up AAA pitching while his major league counterparts largely swung and missed. Dusty’s loyalty (remember Willy Tavares and Corey Patterson) is sometimes admirable, but more often than not with the Reds, foolish. He’s allowed one-third of his batting order to be pretty much automatic outs for the first half of the season. That doesn’t win division titles.
Dusty Baker arrived in Cincinnati with the reputation, fair or unfair, of not being able to manage pitchers. While we haven’t seen any Mark Prior or Kerry Wood type blowouts among starters, his bullpen management has been atrocious. A few weeks ago in Philadelphia, he allowed reliever Carlos Fisher to stay out for over 90 pitches in an extra-inning loss to the Phillies. Fisher hasn’t been the same since and possibly won’t be. Last week in St. Louis, he burned his long reliever, Sam Lecure by not making a double switch and only allowing him to pitch one inning. Aroldis Chapman bailed Baker out by finishing off the Cardinals in the 13th inning. Chapman was the only reliever left at that point. Had the Reds not taken the lead or had Chapman allowed the Cardinals to tie it, Baker would have again have maneuvered himself into a corner. Just this weekend in Milwaukee, Baker trotted out closer Francisco Cordero three straight times, allowing him to throw more pitches in three games than he ever had, all while he had rested arms available. Add to that the second game Cordero threw, he came in after the Reds had expanded the lead to five runs. It’s no wonder Cordero was spent on Sunday and blew the save.
If Baker’s personnel mismanagement isn’t enough to send him packing, Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty must consider the simple need for a shakeup among a young, but underachieving squad. The vast majority of key players on this team are young and under contract. Baker held two “closed-door” team meetings on the last road trip. They went 2-5. Baker may be a “player’s coach” but it’s clear his players are no longer responding to him. The regime before Castellini and Jocketty allowed malaise from guys like Adam Dunn to fester. If they’re to salvage this season and possibly the future attitudes of the likes of Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto, they must act now at the All-Star Break and relieve Dusty Baker of his duties.