LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Generally, Bryan Price said, this is vacation time, time to put up the Christmas tree. His new job means he is much busier than usual.
"You know how few people ever get an opportunity to do this," said Price, the new manager of the Cincinnati Reds. "It really is something that hit me sideways."
Price is one of five new managers to assume control of a team this offseason. Two of them, Price and Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria, take over teams in the National League Central, which last year became one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
Another, Seattle's Lloyd McClendon, received his first managerial job since he was Pirates manager from 2001-05. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland, who managed the Pirates for 11 years.
Matt Williams replaced Davey Johnson in Washington, and Ryne Sandberg, who served as interim manager for the Philadelphia Phillies, officially got the job in late September.
Price takes over a Reds team that won 90 games in 2013, but fired manager Dusty Baker after losing to the Pirates in the NL wild-card game. A strong core of players, including Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Mat Latos, return.
The Pirates' winning season meant three teams in the Central finished with 90 wins, the only division in baseball where that happened.
"One thing we were able to do the last few years is to watch what happened with the Pittsburgh Pirates," Price said during the winter meetings at the Swan and Dolphin resort here. "And you really could see that coming back in 2010, my first year in Cincinnati. You could see this thing was taking shape. And certainly we know the Cubs and the Brewers aren't going to be sitting on their hands waiting to come in fourth or fifth place. They're going to do everything they can to get back on top."
Price's inaugural coaching staff will include former Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell, who took a job as the Reds' bench coach this fall.
"He's well connected, was really kind of my have-to-have coach," Price said. "And Jay fits the bill there. He's a terrific guy. Great baseball man. Great communicator."
The Nationals are a talented team that struggled until late in the season, when a string of wins in August and September shot them into last-second playoff contention. A strong team including Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth became stronger with the addition of starter Doug Fister in a trade from the Tigers. Williams, a rookie manager, said he continues to familiarize himself with the Nationals staff.
"I've been to the winter meetings before, but as an adviser, in that role," Williams said. "So to get to know everybody, one, because I don't know everybody, within the organization, all the scouts. It's been great to get to know those guys."
Williams will manage a two-time former Pirate in Nate McLouth, who agreed to a two-year contract with Washington last week. McLouth, who can play all three outfield positions, will help spell Werth and Harper.
"Of course you want to run your guys out there and you want to win games and all that," Williams said. "But I have to be mindful of the fact that these guys need rest, too. So can he get 350 at-bats? Yeah, if we do it correctly."
The Cubs finished 66-96 and in last place in the Central, and it included a 7-12 record against the Pirates. In attending his first winter meetings, Renteria has a chance to watch the scouts' preparation and get a better feel for the organization. He also understands the challenge facing his team playing against the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds.
"When you're a kid you're growing up and you're playing in the neighborhood, and you've got the older kids out there playing, you want to play with the older kids," Renteria said. "So I see us as the guys who want to play with the older kids and want to take advantage of it and use it."
McClendon had a 336-446 record in parts of five seasons with the Pirates. He has not managed since then, instead serving on Leyland's coaching staff in Detroit.
"I believe that your past prepared you for your future," McClendon said. "I'd be foolish if I said no, I'm no different. I would hope that I'm better. I know I'm older, I'm a little more grayer, and hopefully a little smarter."
McClendon has a new toy to play with in second baseman Robinson Cano, who recently agreed to terms on a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners. McClendon has spoken to Cano several times since the sides reached a deal.
"The players make the manager, the manager doesn't make the player," he said. "I can obviously complement them and try to bring the best out of them. But Chuck Tanner told me a long time ago, donkeys don't win the Kentucky Derby. Thoroughbreds do. You've got to have thoroughbreds out there."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.