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12/05/11 7:20 PM EST

Dusty confident entering contract year

Reds skipper thinks Rolen, Volquez ready to bounce back

DALLAS -- As the Cardinals' Tony La Russa went off into retirement this offseason, Reds skipper Dusty Baker has become an elder statesman of sorts among Major League managers.

Baker has been managing since 1993 with the Giants, Cubs and Reds, and he has taken only one year off -- 2007 -- during that span. As he heads into the final year of his two-year contract with Cincinnati, Baker was asked on Monday how much longer he wanted to remain in the dugout.

"People ask me that. I don't really know," Baker replied during his session with reporters at the Winter Meetings. "I remember talking in a duck blind to [former NFL coach George] Seifert from the 49ers, and he just told me, 'Don't sell yourself short.' He thinks he retired too soon.

"A lot of people have been managing longer than me, you know what I mean, and I'm 62. But I'm a young 62. ... A lot depends on if anybody wants you to continue to manage for them, and if your family at some point in time wants you home, or if your family at some point in time may not want you home. We'll see. Whatever the situation is, I'm going to do something. I'm not a guy that sits around and does nothing."

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One year after they won the National League Central title, Baker's Reds ended 2011 in third place with a 79-83 record in a very disappointing season. Like 2010, Baker is in a contract year and winning could play a major role in whether he stays in Cincinnati.

Baker wasn't worried about his status heading into 2010, and it's likewise heading into 2012.

"I really don't have much choice, to tell you the truth," Baker said. "When I was with the Giants, I signed two-year contracts. They said how does it feel to be a lame duck? I was on crutches. It's no big deal to me. How many people in life have one-year contracts? A lot of people are on paycheck-to-paycheck contracts, or whatever it is, so I feel very fortunate to be even on a one-year contract."

Baker has 1,484 career victories to his credit, which is good for 21st all-time. It's also ranked second among active managers behind the Tigers' Jim Leyland, who has 1,588 wins. Baker is also one of six managers ever to amass 300 wins with three different clubs.

Baker recently met with third baseman Scott Rolen, another of the Reds' elder statesmen, who is also in a contract year. The two crossed paths on Friday at Redsfest in Cincinnati, and Baker relayed Monday that the 36-year-old infielder feels he's primed to have a bounce-back year. Rolen missed most of the second half last season after he had left shoulder surgery and batted only .242

"He said he was feeling fine," Baker said. "We certainly need him because he played 65 games last year. That was tough on him, sitting on the bench. It was tough on us to watch him sitting on the bench. If he's healthy, Scott Rolen still has a lot of miles in him, offensively and defensively. He's got a good body type. He's a strong man, an agile man for his size and a very determined man. And a proud man. He didn't like hitting 240-something. I figure he's going to have an outstanding year this year."

Baker also expected third base prospect Juan Francisco to be part of the picture. Francisco, who is out of Minor League options, missed a chance to take some games from Rolen because he was also injured last season and had knee surgery.

"I like Francisco a lot," Baker said. "He's going to play a lot. Anybody that plays behind Scotty is going to play."

One of the reasons the Reds took a big step backwards last season was because their starting pitching fell off. There were injuries and there were subpar performances. One of the disappointments was Edinson Volquez, who was the Opening Day starter, but who wound up with two stints at Triple-A Louisville.

Volquez, who was 5-7 with a 6.35 ERA in 2011, is now more than two years removed from his August 2009 Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He hasn't been the same pitcher since he won 17 games in 2008.

"If he was going to get back to that point, now is about the time," Baker said. "His velocity is not the question last year. It was his location and his release point. If he gets those back, he could be nasty."

Volquez is not a lock to make the 2012 rotation, but could he step into the closer's role? Baker did not rule it out as the Reds are currently searching both in-house and outside the organization.

"Everybody mentions that. He could be," Baker said. "You want your closer to throw more strikes than he's throwing. But you don't know how his arm would be. It's not the two or three or four days in a row [of pitching], it's the warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down that the closer has to do. ... There are a lot of questions to be answered. And I'm hoping it gets answered by Spring Training."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.