“The development was done last year... It’s time to play to win every day. That’s our mentality, and our expectations are that: building on the way we played in the second half of the season. We’re expecting to win.”
That quote from Indians manager Manny Acta, while a bit old (quoted in the New York Times on March 3), stands in stark contrast to the outlook of most Indians fans. Most of us are a jaded, bitter bunch expecting another flirtation with 100 losses.
Who can blame us? Our best players (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera) have struggled with injuries. Our pitching staff is filled with young, inexperienced arms. Looking around the league, you could fill an All-Star team with former Indians. Other than Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana, there are few obvious bright spots on the 2011 Cleveland Indians.
As long as the young players on the Tribe's roster buy into Manny Acta's high expectations, maybe the Tribe can surprise some people this year. Every year, one team seems to pop out of nowhere to impress (see the 2010 San Diego Padres, 2007 Colorado Rockies, etc). Why can't it be Cleveland this year?
The raw talent is there to support an Indian Summer, but it needs to be cultivated. This is where Manny Acta comes in. Acta doesn't have the best record managing at the major league level (227-345, a .397 winning percentage). In his final year managing the Washington Nationals, Acta started the year 26-61 (a .299 winning percentage), while Jim Riggleman, with basically the same team, finished the year 33-42 (a .440 winning percentage).
In the hallowed halls of modern-day managers (Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox), Manny Acta isn't even scratching at the door.
There is hope, though. Managing the Washington Nationals from 2007-2009 was like managing Snooki's career: no talent to work with. Go take a look at the Nationals' 2008 roster. Seriously. That team was filled with stiffs. It's a miracle they got to 59 wins.
What Manny Acta did in Washington from 2007-2009 (and in Cleveland last year) was lay a foundation for success. The Nationals last year went 69-93 and are rising. In addition to the young players in their pipeline (Bryce Harper, a recovering Stephen Strasburg), the environment Acta set up has the Nationals pointing in the right direction.
Manny Acta got fired for not turning water into wine and winning right away, not because he didn't know how to manage.
Acta embraces and loves the challenge of fixing up a young team. He cited that as the main reason he signed on to manage the Indians before last year. He's shown that he has the patience necessary to deal with a rebuilding team. Now, he needs to prove he can win.
The Indians have much more in place than the 2007-2009 Washington Nationals. They have plenty of young talent (Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco, etc.) at the major league level. They have even more young talent (Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Alex White, Cord Phelps, Nick Weglarz, etc.) that could contribute to the big league club later this year. A good manager could push the right buttons and make this team a contender now.
So, Manny Acta, it's time to put up or shut up. It's time to see what you've got. If you really deserve to manage a major league team, this team should compete. A good manager might be able to get this team to .500. A great manager could take this team to the playoffs.
In the words of the great sports drink Gatorade, Manny Acta, is it in you?