This past Sunday, the Indians hired Manny Acta as their new manager. Former Washington Nationals skipper Acta was signed to a three-year contract with a club option for 2013.
The Acta hiring has received a mix of cheers and jeers. Some say Acta's reputation as an excellent handler of young players makes him a perfect fit, while others question the ability of a manager whose team lost more games than the Tribe did last year.
The truth of the matter is perhaps somewhere in between. Acta does seem to have the potential to guide the Indians to better performance than they have displayed in recent years, but his unsuccessful track record in Washington cannot be ignored.
As always, the trouble with hiring a manager is that the best guy for the job is never, ever available, because he's already managing somewhere else. The best we can hope for is that the team has hired the best candidate available, and that he can help the team to achieve the most they are capable of achieving given what they have to work with.
Thus looking ahead to 2010 and thereafter, we will have to judge Acta on what he can do with what he has been given. Following are what I think are the three key objectives Acta must focus on in order to help the Indians be the best baseball team that they are capable of being.
1. Get the highest possible return from the talent available
Acta's detractors have expressed some worry over how he will fare in Cleveland because his team in Washington was essentially a failure. This concern is certainly not without merit, but the situation is not quite that simple.
Prevailing opinion among experts states that the Indians have more talent available than the Nationals did. The key for Acta will be utilizing the resources he has at his disposal to generate the greatest possible return.
Acta inherits a talented outfield that includes the proven competitor Shin Soo Choo, a hopefully healed Grady Sizemore, who should bounce back to his standard form in 2010, and the intriguing Michael Brantley, who made a splash in his major league debut at the close of 2009.
He also has potential power threat Matt LaPorta, proven up and comer Asdrubal Cabrera, and wild card Luis Valbeuna in the infield.
Pitchers David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Justin Masterson, and Carlos Carrasco struggled in 2009, but have shown potentially high upsides for the future. Tony Sipp looks to be a gem coming out of the bullpen, and the optimistic among Tribe fans still have hope for the resurgence of floundering sinkerballers Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook.
The test for Acta will be to take all these good-quality individual parts, and find a way to make them work together as one well-functioning machine.
2. Develop young players for the future while getting the most out of them in the present
Another boon for Acta going into 2010 is the wealth of up-and-coming talent which the organization has waiting in the wings. In addition to the youngsters already given a taste of major league action in 2009, the team holds a slew of potential talent still in the minor leagues, most notably pitcher Hector Rondon and potential star catcher Carlos Santana.
Acta already has the reputation of a manager who handles and develops young players well.
The trick will be getting these kids to hone their skills and learn the game at a big league level in order to build a competitive team for the future, while still playing high-quality fundamental baseball on a day-to-day basis in order to keep the team's proverbial head above water and net the Indians a respectable finish for the 2010 season.
3. Temper expectations while keeping the team, the fans, and the city motivated and enthusiastic.
When Acta took this job, he knew he wasn't inheriting a 2010 World Series contender. Every new manager who takes over a young and inexperienced team dreams of bringing the plot of Major League to life, but must keep his expectations realistic if he expects to succeed at his job and keep it for years to come.
Acta must be reasonable about what he can expect out of his squad, but at the same time, must keep them motivated and driven, giving the fans and the players themselves a reason to keep showing up every day, even if the season doesn't promise to end in a playoff run.
Failure to live up to expectations cost the Indians mightily in 2009, alienating fans and leaving players disappointed and apathetic. We all learned our lesson, and I believe we are all now more aware of what we truly have at our disposal.
Acta's job will be to keep expectations reasonable, while still giving players a reason to give 100 percent every day on the field, and still giving fans a reason to have hope for this team in the future and enough enthusiasm to keep watching this team in the present.
Obviously, Mr. Acta has his work cut out for him. There are hundreds of things that Acta will need to do to right the Indians' proverbial ship and set it on a successful course above and beyond the aforementioned key expectations.
It will be a long and arduous journey, but I believe Mr Acta is up to the challenge.
Please feel free to leave your suggestions as to how Acta can see that the goals mentioned above are achieved in the comment section below, as well as your ideas for other key objectives Acta needs to meet to put this team on the path to success.