Baker hopeful in new life with Reds
New Reds manager optimistic team has right pieces in place
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- New manager Dusty Baker is still in the get-acquainted phase with his Reds team, but he is quickly accelerating his way past the learning curve.Since his hiring on Oct. 14, Baker has immersed himself in all details about his team, from the roster and its makeup to the personnel around the rest of the organization. The phones of Reds players have also been ringing, with their new skipper on the other end. "I've gotten in touch with probably 70 percent of them, maybe," Baker said Wednesday during a media session at the Winter Meetings. "I've been on the phone a lot... I'm checking on some guys through other guys and see who is working out, who is in shape and find out, 'Why are you waiting until December to start working out?' We've got to change the mindset here of how a winner thinks. "I'm looking forward to this weekend, seeing some in person [at] Redsfest and talking to them and seeing who has been dedicated, see who has been working out, see who is getting their mind and body ready for the season. I had a couple players in the past -- every time I call them, they are breathing hard. They were on the stair stepper and stationary bike, and so I start calling at 10 at night and they are [huffing and puffing]. I'd call at 10 in the morning [they're huffing and puffing]. And I say, man, this guy is really working out, and then when I saw him, he's still like 260. So it's a good idea to kind of see them in person." The former Cubs manager and a National League Central rival from 2003-06, Baker has firsthand knowledge about some of the Reds veteran players. But he hasn't seen much of the younger players -- from Homer Bailey to Joey Votto, Jared Burton, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion. For now, full notions about his lineup and rotation are on hold. Until the team convenes at Spring Training this February in Sarasota, Baker won't truly know exactly what kind of hand he's been dealt. So far, Baker likes what he has to work with. "What I like probably most is the combination of youth and veterans, I think," Baker said. "That's what I like the most. If you can get that combination there, and then get them together; like I've always said, you get the experience of the veterans and you get the energy of the youth, and combine those two, we can do some wonderful things."
Baker has spent much of the week holed up in the Reds' suite with club executives at the Opryland Hotel. Cincinnati has been actively trying to land a starting pitcher -- either through a trade or free agency.Last week, Baker was credited with an assist in the Reds' signing of free agent closer Francisco Cordero by making a couple of phone calls to the pitcher's home in the Dominican Republic. The wooing of free agents hasn't stopped there. "I feel like a recruiter sometimes," Baker said smiling. Baker's star power was evidenced by the size of the media group around him. Past sessions with previous skippers were often attended by a handful of mostly Cincinnati-area reporters. Scribes from Chicago and the Bay Area were present, as were national reporters. Among other topics broached: Should the Reds try to part with Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. because of economics? "I'm not the GM, but I don't think our organization wants to part with them," Baker said. "If they wanted to then they wouldn't have signed Dunn back in the first place and picked up his option. And Junior's here; I didn't come to town for Junior to leave." Has Baker spoken yet with Pete Rose? "Not yet. I'm hoping to hear from Pete," Baker said. "I'm sure I will when I get there. I'd like to prove Pete wrong when he says it's impossible to win there in [Great American] Ball Park. I'd like to hopefully win and have Pete there when we do win. Pete, Joe Morgan, all the dudes that used to kick in my tail when I was on the other side." Baker's arrival to Cincinnati has sparked enthusiasm for a franchise and fan base that has endured seven-straight losing seasons and no postseason berths since 1995. There's reason for the optimism. Baker has a history for helming turnarounds in his first year. In 1993, his Giants won 103 games (but finished second) after the team was 72-90 the previous year. The 2003 Cubs won 88 games and the National League Central following a 67-95 season in 2002. "Expecting to win starts in the winter, because by the time you get to Spring Training, it's too late," Baker said. "That's why you start making these calls during the winter. You start thinking about things, you start to see through foresight and you see it in your head first before you get there."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.