Wayne Krivsky, hired in February to replace Dan O'Brien as Reds general manager, has made a smooth transition under less than optimal circumstances. He'd feel even more at home if it weren't for the wardrobe requirements.
Before his arrival in Cincinnati, Krivsky spent 12 years in Minnesota doing everything from negotiating contracts to preparing salary arbitration cases for GM Terry Ryan. He also grew accustomed to eating in media dining rooms and sitting behind home plate with a stopwatch while scouting the National League.
Now, all of a sudden, Krivsky is watching games from a private booth upstairs and standing in front of a mirror tying Windsor knots. It's enough to make a guy feel like a big shot.
"My wife had bought me plenty of ties, so that's not a problem," Krivsky said. "I just had to make sure I could still fit into my suits. I'm OK right now, but I have to watch it and make sure I get my workouts in."
Three weeks into the season, his team is doing all it can to ease Krivsky's transition.
The Reds, who entered the season with minimal expectations, have been one of baseball's big early surprises. Cincinnati raised its record to 16-7 with a 5-4 victory over Houston on Friday, and locals who were ground down by years of mediocrity are taking notice. Krivsky hears the burgeoning euphoria each day when he drives to work and the local talk radio meisters exhort fans to "jump on the Red wagon."
The Reds' strong start is largely attributable to one of baseball's most productive offenses. They lead the National League in runs, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, even though Ken Griffey Jr. has appeared in only eight games because of a knee injury. He's expected to come off the disabled list any day now.
Some of the credit has to go to the general manager, who has taken an aggressive, fearless approach to tweaking the roster. Krivsky had a clue what the Reds needed from more than a decade of watching the team as a scout, and he made numerous moves in his first two months on the job.
Krivsky picked up starter Bronson Arroyo from Boston for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, acquired second baseman Brandon Phillips from Cleveland for a player to be determined, added outfielder Cody Ross from the Dodgers, and signed free agents Scott Hatteberg and Quinton McCracken while waiving Tony Womack.
The acquisition of Phillips, a 24-year-old former elite prospect who was out of options, was the type of low-risk, high-upside move that makes perfect sense for an organization like the Reds. The Arroyo trade, in contrast, played to mixed reviews.
"I wouldn't have done that deal," said a National League scout. "I know they needed pitching, but you don't trade a potential Sammy Sosa for a guy that you don't know about. The question is, what kind of pitcher is Arroyo? We'll see what happens the second time around."
Here's the alternate viewpoint: Pena looks great in batting practice and can really fill out a uniform, but he's strikeout prone, defensively challenged and the quintessential "tease." And by moving Pena, the Reds eased the pressure on Austin Kearns. He looks more relaxed this season and is off to a strong start.
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
In 16 games with the Reds, 2B Brandon Phillips has 20 RBI and a .610 slugging percentage. As for Arroyo, he has been borderline sensational, going 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA. The fans in Cincinnati have embraced him, just as Boston fans embraced him, for his bleached blond hair, kitchen-sink repertoire and free-spirited, guitar-strumming nature. Hitters are more inclined to notice how deftly Arroyo throws strikes, changes speeds and uses his secondary pitches even when he's behind in the count.
As a footnote, Arroyo is hitting .154 with two homers in 13 at-bats, for a .615 slugging percentage.
"There's a lot to like about him," Krivsky said.
Phillips drove in 20 runs in his first 16 games with the Reds, but it remains to be seen whether he'll fulfill his promise of three years ago, when Baseball America ranked him as Cleveland's No. 1 prospect. He lacks patience at the plate and, according to some, has issues turning the double play. But Phillips is a high-energy player and fun to watch. On a team that has produced five straight sub-.500 seasons, there's something to be said for entertainment value.
"He got a little bit of a rap in Cleveland, but he's gotten out of the chute well by being aggressive," said an NL front office man. "He's always been a good baseball player. If he learns how to relax and make some adjustments through the course of the season, he could be a more offensive version of Orlando Hudson."
The Reds punish left-handed pitching, and most of the Cincinnati hitters are adept at working a count. Adam Dunn and Ryan Freel rank among the league's top 10 in walks, and Freel, Kearns, Dunn and shortstop Felipe Lopez are averaging more than 4.00 pitches per plate appearance.
Of course, it won't matter much if the Reds can't pitch. The bullpen is shaky, and Arroyo and Aaron Harang are the only two starters with ERAs below 6.00. Paul Wilson just began a rehab assignment, and Eric Milton should return from knee surgery sometime in May. But history shows they'll only contribute so much.
The long-term prospects in Cincinnati are better than they've been in a while. Owner Robert Castellini, who's active without being meddlesome, has created some positive vibes, and Krivsky wins points for listening to his scouts and uniformed personnel in an effort to make informed decisions. He also has strengthened the front office by bringing in respected talent evaluators Scott Nethery and Chris Buckley.
The Reds might have a better handle on just where they stand after the current home stand with Houston and St. Louis, but Krivsky doesn't buy the notion that they can make a statement with a strong showing. It's too early in the season for statements.
"Just keep playing them one at a time," Krivsky said. "Every game counts the same. I'm going to give you a boring answer on that one."
Night after night, Cincinnati's new general manager will be sitting in his private booth, in his suit and tie, making mental notes and keeping score. Judging from his first two months, he won't miss a thing.