Manny Acta will not manage the Nats to a world championship. He won't manage the Nats to a pennant. In all likelihood, he won't manage the Nats to the playoffs. He might never manage the Nats to a winning record.
The Nats won't do anything particularly memorable with Manny Acta as manager.
* * * *
But it looks like it's Manny Acta for manager. (And we have confirmation!) As a general rule, when a guy is a candidate for two jobs (in this case, Nats and A's) and he tells one of those prospective employers (in this case, the A's) to look somewhere else, two reasonable conclusions arise:
- the guy is a bit idiotic and not the least presumptuous; or
- the guy has something lined up with the other prospective employer.
The odds are not great Acta will experience much noticeable success as the Nats' manager.
* * * *
All of the preceding is not to say he is (or will be) a bad hire. Based on what we know---and, more to the point, based on what the Lernastens must know---he strikes me as a very good hire. He appears energetic, bright, and willing to learn. When you're a first-time big league manager, there aren't many other important characteristics at your disposal. If this is your managerial tool chest, then you're positioned to do pretty well.
Now, I admit I'm a bit wary of Acta, mainly as the flip side of the coin---because he's one of those "next big thing" type of candidates. He's young and unproven and seems to interview well and says the kinds of things that make us, the dorky bloggers, tingle. He might be a bit too good to be true. Mediocrity is easy to dismiss out of hand; not to cast aspersions on John Russell or Trent Jewett, but they didn't seem much above mediocre candidates, and no one seemed to care too much when they were removed from consideration. Acta, on the other hand, has been positioned as a prospective candidate a cut or ten above Russell and Jewett. Maybe he's just as mediocre as those two guys appear and he's merely marketed himself better. But he doesn't appear mediocre; he seems a rather exceptional young candidate. And rather exceptional young candidates carry heavy potential to disppoint.
Acta is---without prescribing particular party politics here--that candidate who rises out of apparent obscurity and is young, vivacious, inspiring, charming, and----well, and a real threat to be exposed badly as the campaign wears on.
You hitch your wagon to that guy (or gal) at your own peril. High risk, high reward.
* * * *
That's not a perfect analogy, of course. Namely, the risk here is not so great; if Acta doesn't work out, there's not a tremendous amount of harm done, because it's not like he (or any other manager in this position) will subvert immediate designs for something great. This is a team "building from within" and signs gobs of minor league free agents. It's a team searching for cheap depth through cheap surprises. It's not a team positioning itself for rousing success in the near-term. No manager can mess up designs of imminent success, because there exist no such designs.
Actually, that previous paragraph, in my eyes, is the salient point here.
* * * *
Manny Acta won't win as the Nationals' manager, because the Nationals won't be ready to win by the time his term as Nats skipper expires. This is something short of a prediction---and, as previously noted, it's not an assessment of Acta's managerial skills, to the extent we can perceive them---but it's the nature of things.
Whether Acta is a success (again, if indeed he is the choice, and he accepts) is almost an entirely different matter. Acta can be a success if he:
- helps bring stability to a franchise that's been in flux;
- helps usher in a regime of professionalism to an organization that has been at times distressingly disorganized and unprofessional;
- helps inbue fundamentals (both in the "proper-play" and "intelligent-play" senses) to a team that has been lacking in on-field discipline;
- helps ensure young and/or reasonably priced talent gets a fair shake, when it seemingly hasn't at various times;
- helps prepare a hungry and appreciative fanbase for a generation of winning baseball; and
- yes, helps the team, as constructed, win more games than could be reasonably expected.
* * * *
If you believe Acta's quotes in the press (and he's said a lot of glowing things---not just about the Nats, but earlier about the Rangers and A's), then he believes the Nats' stated course is intelligent and exciting.
To some, it seems neither intelligent nor exciting. It does, after all, most likely involve falling down on making a real effort to keep the team's most dynamic and exciting player, Alfonso Soriano, and showing anything more than supeficial interest in what the team most glaringly needs, top-shelf pitching. To others, it might seem intelligent (and the excitement might be held in abeyance for a year or two or four), but it might also seem unnecessary: The Lernastens do not lack in funding, it would seem, and they're a year or at most two from moving into a money-making gift of a ballpark.
But it is what it is, and build-from-the-ground-up at least has the veneer of being intelligent and, yes, down-the-road-exciting. It's a sound plan, even if it still requires execution. Acta has never managed in the big leagues before; he'd obviously like to get a shot. And why not start off in an organization that knows what the hell it's doing?
So, if he's offered the job, and if he accepts, he'll do his duty dutifully. If he's a success, he'll contribute to this intelligent and exciting future. And, I'm sure he realizes, if he prepares the organization for a next step---a winning step---he'll eventually be replaceable. Someone established as a "winner," not just a "builder," will be handed the keys when it's time.
It is, to me at least, just a matter of time. In a way, it reminds me of the nature of things in the baseball agent, as noted in my previous review of the book on agent Matt Sosnick.
* * * *
I could be tremendously off-base about this, or maybe I'm merely and unduly influenced by an Alan Trammell ---> Jim Leyland progression. But I think Acta---if his eyes are open---has to know he's entering this job with an unbalanced mandate. Perhaps he's the manager in DC for a generation, but I doubt it. Something will happen that necessitates his departure before it's time for him to hold up a trophy. I'm guessing it will be something like this---
- Acta's team overachieves a bit as it grows;
- his team's record declines a bit as it goes through the familiar "consolidation year"; and then
- it's not Acta's team anymore, as the powers that be decide it's time for a veteran ringer to lead the club to traditional measures of success (or failure).
Or maybe he's the man, now and forever.
But I suspect the bare record itself will not reveal Acta's influence on this franchise. It will be up to us, those who follow the team closely (obsessively?), to appreciate Acta's influence properly. Now that we can actually watch the team, I'm sure our job will be made much easier. And, thankfully, someone like Acta gives us hope and reason to watch.
* * * *
SPEAKING OF WATCHING:
Before many of us could really say hello to Tom Paciorek, we must now say goodbye. Working for MASN seems to require a sensation-seeking predisposition. If turnover is an index of danger, then taking a TV job for the Nats (two separate pairings in the first two seasons, with a third color man forthcoming) must be like one of those Tokyo drift deals. Somehow, play-by-play (and avid scorebook enthusiast) Bob Carpenter survived the carnage.
I quite liked Paciorek when he was "Wimpy," Hawk Harrelson's sidekick on the Chicago White Sox broadcasts in the 1990s. In retrospect, I was younger back then, and Paciorek was not much more than a sidekick on a variety show. The few times I got to tap into MASN this past season, I wasn't impressed by Paciorek. From all appearances, the bulk of the commentary he provided came in the form of guttural sounds. (It also seems he focused on breaking down swings, whereas the team wanted someone with a pitching or catching perspective. Blessedly, there was no one around who could meet the Lernastens' expectations to provide expert analysis of this past season's woeful pitching staff.)
Consider me a well-wisher, in that I wish Paciorek no specific harm. His departure won't cause me to lose sleep, but I recognize taste is often (always?) subjective, and some people seemed to love the guy. I understand what it feels like to lose something familiar and welcome. Just the other day, on my ride home from work, I tuned to XM Public Radio, as is my custom. (Yes, I suppose that's a dorky thing to do.) I discovered re-runs of This American Life (probably the least dorky show on public radio, not that I'm being defensive here) was not being aired in that timeslot anymore. I really like that show and was disappointed it was gone from my drivetime listening. It's just one of those things---you of course get over it, but for a second or two it kind of stinks.
Again, the analogy isn't perfect: Paciorek is gone (and, he says, retired from announcing), whereas XMPR airs repeats of This American Life in like four different timeslots throughout the week, and I can listen to first-run shows on terrestrial radio, too. Besides, who cares about me losing a radio show I like?
Anyway, Capitol Punishment has some comments on where the team is rumored to go from here, and I wish to subscribe to them: Buck Martinez, meh; Steve Stone, sure.
The eleventy-billion time Emmy winner also rumors Martinez might be shifting to Natty TV, with Stone headed to O's TV. I'm of two minds about this rumor: (1) considering the source, it's probably wrong; (2) considering it's MASN, it's just enough screw-the-Nat-ish to be viable.