There has been plenty of indirect evidence that Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker have knocked heads a few times this year regarding player roles.
First, there was the handling of Fred Lewis. On January 10, the day Lewis signed with the Reds, Walt Jocketty stated that he saw a leadoff role for Lewis. “Lewis is a guy with experience leading off and has had success with that,” said Jocketty. The Reds’ GM also indicated that he envisioned Lewis as a platoon partner for Jonny Gomes in LF. “We’ll see how it plays out in Spring Training and it could potentially be [a platoon], yes,” Jocketty said. The GM had done his homework, an article in FanGraphs confirmed (“perfect platoon partners”). The platoon made sense based on the two players’ career stats.
Enter Dusty Baker. On March 1, with Spring Training barely begun, Baker shot down Jocketty’s idea, announcing there would be no LF platoon. Baker wanted Gomes to receive most of the playing time in LF. When a reporter asked Baker a question with the assumption of a platoon, the manager snapped, “I never said that.” He quickly added, “Gomes deserves to play most of the time.”
In one world, the disagreement between Jocketty and Baker on Lewis’ role could have been resolved on the field, by trying Lewis as a leadoff hitter in Spring Training. But Baker used his power of the lineup card to block the trial, preventing Lewis from the opportunity. Why would Baker do that? Easy. If Lewis had been a success batting first, as Jocketty thought possible, the argument for playing Lewis and not Gomes in LF would have been much stronger.
It’s not like the Reds had an established leadoff hitter. Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Edgar Renteria and Chris Heisey all took their turns at Goodyear. But not Fred Lewis, the player who had been signed by the GM because he “had success with that.” Amazingly, there were many games when Dave Sappelt or Kris Negron led off and Lewis batted lower in the lineup. Baker gave Lewis a total of four AB in the leadoff spot.
It would not be until June 22 when Dusty Baker tried Walt Jocketty’s idea to look at Fred Lewis as the Cincinnati Reds leadoff hitter.
The Reds also agreed to terms with Edgar Renteria on January 10. As with Lewis, Jocketty made clear his designs for the free agent. “Edgar was signed as a complementary player,” Jocketty said. “He can have a lot of different roles on our club, filling in at third from time to time.” During the Reds’ caravan trip, I attended the event at GABP. When asked that day what role Renteria would play for the Reds, Jocketty said Renteria would play “all around the infield” and that Renteria “would take some balls at first base and at third base” at Spring Training.
Once again, it became clear that manager Dusty Baker had his own idea. Baker plainly wanted Renteria to be his everyday shortstop and had no intention of allowing that plan to be disrupted by having Renteria practice all over the field. Incredibly, on March 8, barely a week into Spring Training, Baker announced that Renteria would not play 3B. “I talked to Edgar. He doesn’t feel real comfortable playing third.” (Is it really possible that Jocketty never had this discussion with Renteria or his agent prior to signing him?)
Despite the logic that Spring Training was an ideal time to try Renteria at 3B, he did not play even one inning there in Goodyear. Baker played Renteria exclusively at SS during Spring Training.
And that was that. When Scott Rolen and Juan Francisco were hurt earlier this year, Renteria’s lack of practice at 3B was used as an excuse why he couldn’t fill in there. (If only someone had thought to try that in Goodyear, but who could ever imagine Rolen going on the DL!) To this date, Renteria has not played a single inning for the Reds at first or third base.
Walt and Dusty apparently have had their share of disagreements this year, but we outsiders have had to read between the lines to deduce it. Now, just maybe the cracks are becoming public. Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated reported this morning:
Sources suggest there has been some difference of opinion over playing time between Reds GM Walt Jocketty and manager Dusty Baker, who has a year to go on his contract. The Reds are over .500 for the first time since early July, but it is curious how much playing time veterans Miguel Cairo and Freddie Lewis are getting in a lost season. Rival execs say they also would have traded Ramon Hernandez before the July 31 trade deadline and employed Devin Mesoraco as catcher. Hernandez was claimed on waivers by a competitor and pulled back by the Reds. He would have helped the Giants, among others.
I think a majority of us were extremely disappointed with the relative inaction of the Reds last off-season, and our skepticism has been proven right by the team’s performance this year, falling short of their 2010 season. Walt Jocketty’s moves were small bore, at best. You can debate the merits of Lewis, Gomes, Renteria and Janish all you want. But when even the meager steps taken by the GM are deliberately sabotaged by the manager, you have a recipe ripe for failure.
Seriously, is continued success possible with such a dysfunctional relationship between the GM and manager?