Acta Upbeat Despite Tribe's Lack Of Signings

Manny Acta has been the Indians manager for a little more than one year and has always been upbeat. Quite frankly, the fans do not share his enthusiasm, pointing to consecutive 90+ loss seasons. Acta knows his young players have a long way to go to make it a 90+ win season, but he truly believes many of the parts are in place to put Cleveland baseball back on a winning track.

Despite the Indians' inactivity in signing high-profile free agents or making a trade to upgrade the team for 2011, Acta is confident that new general manager Chris Antonetti will get him a bit more talent.

"Chris has kept up with just about everybody on our needs and their needs," Acta said. "I think it's obvious that we're not going to get big names because that's not our plan and our vision right now. There is a chance that we'll get some of our needs resolved."

Acta understands that other AL Central teams have added talent, making his job that much tougher.

"They've been doing it for a while, you know, the Tigers and the White Sox," he said. "They've picked up some big-time players with Dunn (Adam, to Chicago) and Victor Martinez, and Joaquin Benoit (to Detroit).

"But our bulk of improvement is going to come from within. We feel good about our kids. I really like the way they played the second half of the season.

"Only about six to eight guys (managers) go to spring training having everyone picking them to go all the way. The rest of us just come to camp to work hard and try to prove all you guys wrong and shock the world. Basically that is what we're going to do because not too many people picked the San Diego Padres to be where they were last year. Not too many people picked Seattle to be where they were last year. It's baseball.

"We like the way our pitching got better toward the end, and also we like the way our bullpen is set up and the young kids that are coming up."

Acta thinks that despite Minnesota being strong as division champions and Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City upgrading this off-season, the Indians have a chance to move up.

"I love our division," he said. "That was one of the reasons why I took this job because, yeah, we know how good the Twins have been, and the Sox and the Tigers. And our team, ourselves, in 2007 and 2005, winning over 90 games, I think a lot of people like to call our division weak. We're not weak, we're just balanced. That's what a lot of people want in baseball. I like our division. I like our chances."

The return to healthy by outfielder Grady Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana, both of whom had knee surgery last summer, will be a key to the Indians' hopes in 2011. Acta hopes both will be healthy and big contributors.

"How much am I hoping?" he said. "About 100 percent hope. Those guys are doing very well.

"We were offensively challenged a little bit last year, and it was due to the fact that our best player (Sizemore) didn't play for five months. Having him back along with (Shin-Soo) Choo and then Carlos, who was able to change our lineup completely by himself when he came up, can help. With (Asdrubal) Cabrera and (Travis) Hafner, and those young kids that are coming up, I think it will be different.

"But I think everybody saw, you win the game with pitching. The Giants were a great example of that. I'm very happy about the progress we've made. The fact that we allowed 113 fewer runs than the year before and the fact that the second half of the season our pitching staff overall ranked pretty high -- I have high hopes."

Acta said that all the injuries to key players in 2010 kept him from managing the way he would have liked. He changed his focus early on to trying to develop the team for 2011 instead of winning the division -- which was his original intent.

"Some things I can't control," he said. "I can't control players' health. I think this year was a good opportunity for me to sit back and watch some of those kids that got called up prematurely. Some of those guys were not even supposed to be in the big leagues until September.

"So I sat back, I thought that was the best thing I did. I sat back and let them play at the beginning, let them settle down. Some of those kids are always looking over their shoulder when they first come up, whether am I going to stick up here, am I going to be sent down?

"We let them play. I think it helps that we set out that plan as an organization, and we knew that we were going to have to let guys like Lou (Marson) and guys like (Michael) Brantley, and guys like (Matt) LaPorta go through some struggles. And I think the fact that we sat back, let them go through their struggles and allowed them to fight through it was the best thing that we probably could do."

Acta doesn't think he could have done anything differently to avoid the losing season.

"I did everything I can," he said. "None of us are perfect. I leave that to you guys. I'm not very hard on myself."

He believes that one of the good things he did, even if impatient Indians fans wanting to win immediately disagree, was to develop young players.

"As an organization, we did a very good job not allowing kids to come up when they weren't ready," Acta said. "It's easy to fall for the peer pressure about a young kid swinging well in the minor leagues or a guy throwing in the mid-90's and having a decent ERA or decent whip or whatever you want to call it.

"Case No. 1 is Carlos Santana. We knew from the get-go that Carlos could compete offensively. We never felt the pressure. We knew that he had some time to develop. His defense, his game calling and everything, and allowed him to go back (to the minors to open 2010).

"How much you want to let some of those guys play, it also depends on your options. I think last year, obviously, a team like ours can't absorb the type of injuries we had. So a guy like Jason Donald who wasn't supposed to be in the big leagues until September, had to be in the big leagues in May, and all we had to do was work with the kid and let him go through some struggles. He kept his head above water, and we were happy for that.

"I think we're doing a pretty good job of staying away from some guys just because of the public or whoever is claiming that they should be up."

Acta stresses that other top prospects will be handled carefully in the future, too.

"Guys like Lonnie (Chisenhall) and (Jason) Kipnis are the next generation of guys that we're going to have to monitor and make sure that they're ready, and when they come up here they don't hit too many bumps on the road."

Acta admits that third base is a real problem spot and that even Donald, a career shortstop who was tried at second base last year, could be asked to play third.

"We're very deep and our depth is great up the middle," Acta said. "Unfortunately, we have some issues at third base, but we're very deep. Unless we do something here or throughout the rest of the off-season and find our answer at third base, hey, the answer is going to come from one of those guys. It could be Donald, it could be (Jayson) Nix, it could be (Cord) Phelps. It could be you name it, guys that are coming into camp."

Acta would like whoever plays third base to be able to play it -- not just be an offensive player standing over there and letting balls get past or making costly errors.

"Defense is important to us at that position because our five starters last year for the most part were right-handers, and our guys are sinker ball pitchers," he said. "So you're going to get a lot of groundballs toward the left side of the infield. So that's why it's so important to us.

"Even if you get a left-hander that can sink the ball against the righties, they're going to roll over. So the left side of our infield is very important to us. We feel good about the right side. LaPorta played extremely well defensively. And we're deep. I mean, our depth at second base is very good. So it is key for us."

Acta hopes that second baseman Luis Valbuena, who endured a poor 2010 season, is getting his game back together in winter ball.

"He's been up-and-down," Acta said frankly. "The on-base percentage has been good. He's been up-and-down. Some other guys have played well in winter ball, too, like (Jared) Goedert, and Matt McBride some of those guys. The main thing is Luis is playing. He needs to get his confidence back. Hopefully before the year's over, he gets up there in the .270s, .280s, .300s, and comes to camp re-energized."

Acta doesn't want management making trades just to make them, or signing a free agent that isn't an upgrade -- just to appease fans. He said that at this point in the Indians' development, it doesn't make sense to add an older player to provide "leadership". He wants a younger guy that may grow into an experienced leader.

"I made it known for years during rebuilding that I don't go for veterans just because they're 40 years old and they've been around 15, 17 years," he said. "I need a guy that is going to contribute at this point, not only to be a leader in the clubhouse.

"If I really want a leader in the clubhouse, I just take a plane and go to Washington and hire somebody over there from the government or something. I need people that can help me in the field.

"I can be a leader, and my coaches should be leaders, and then these kids are going to develop into leaders. I really don't want somebody around just because he's going to be a leader. I need somebody that can hit, catch the ball, throw the ball, run the bases and pitch."

Acta likes the way the bullpen developed from a weakness into a strength during his first year in Cleveland. Yet he is too cautious to think it will automatically get even better.

"You can never get satisfied, and you can never have enough pitching," Acta said. "But we were very happy with our bullpen last year. We're extremely happy with the guys that are knocking on the door too. You have Josh Judy, you have Zach Putnam, and you have guys like Bryce Stowell who are getting ready to take one of those jobs, too.

"Vinnie Pestano came up at the end of the season and threw the ball well. So we're going to go into spring training and if we can improve it, we will. Because I think everybody knows how unpredictable bullpens are, and it has happened here in the past.

"But we feel pretty good right now with the guy who is closing our games at the end, Chris Perez, and Tony Sipp, and Rafael Perez, and Smitty (Joe Smith), and Jensen Lewis all those guys.

"So the competition's going to be good in spring training. Competition brings the best out of people and we're happy with those arms that are coming out."

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