Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A piece of the Acta

The Washington Nationals — possessors of a .299 winning percentage this season — fired manager Manny Acta on Monday.

What an ill-run franchise: An interim general manager, an interim manager, a scandal in its Latin American scouting operation, a roster badly in need of detonation — even uniforms with the team name misspelled.

From the outside, it's difficult to tell what role Acta played in the deterioration of the team's record. In his first season, the Nats were 73-89; in his second, 59-102; and now 26-61.

Peter Gammons on Monday's Baseball Tonight called it "the most ill-conceived roster," and that's an accurate assessment. What input Acta had as former GM Jim Bowden went about accumulating corner outfielders and first basemen is the question the comes first to my mind. If Acta assured him that Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes were capable center fielders, then Acta shares the blame for the silliness.

The second question is why the Nationals' bullpen is such a mess. A useful quick-n-dirty gauge to the quality of an organization is the bullpen. A sharp operation can dig up usable arms for short stints. Operations that have repeated bad years in the pen (the Mets, the Indians) get those bad years for a reason. The Nationals' pen has deteriorated each season under Acta.

There are things I like about the Nationals. In Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler, they have three starters of promise. Assuming they (a) get first-round pick Stephen Strasburg signed and (b) keep everybody healthy, they could very quickly have the best starting rotation in the division.

That's something to build on. They need some players who can catch the ball — starting with center field and second base — to protect those pitchers. And that's going to require a GM who can turn their ridiculous surplus of DH-first base-slow outfielders (Adam Dunn, Dmitri Young, Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson) into something usable.

As for Acta: I suspect there are a half-dozen teams that would benefit from having him as their manager rather than the current occupant. But that's only a suspicion. I'm inclined to put the blame for the ill-conceived roster on Bowden. But Acta was in the room.

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