David Blaine, David Copperfield, Harry Houdini, Manny Acta… one of these men is not a magician.
Sandy Alomar Jr. won his first game as the manager of the Cleveland Indians last night. It couldn’t have gone much better, really. He got a quality start from I-71 veteran in southpaw David Huff, the piecework lineup combined for 16 hits, and the bullpen closed it out with Chris Perez capped it with his 39th save. The Tribe topped the Royals in the series opener 8-5, and there were smiles all around for the former behind the plate legend and bench coach that most like and respect. However, as I watched the game and heard the growing discussion about Sandy’s candidacy for the job and the likelihood that he’ll get the job, it was a tad bittersweet for yours truly. All I can think about is that sad day when they’ll have to cut him loose, as the Indians did with Manny Acta on Thursday.
Why am I so discouraged by this development? It’s a combination of disagreement in the timing and dismissal of Acta, the ineptitude of this front office, and the sad state of this organization’s major and minor league rosters. It’s hard to say that Sandy Alomar, Terry Francona, or whomever the next Tribe skipper is will be handed a better roster than Acta was at the start of the 2010 campaign.
Do I think the Indians made any sort of catastrophic mistake in letting Acta go? No, Acta certainly had his shortcomings as a skipper1, and you need to look no further than the nosedives out of first place in 2011 and 2012 for reasonable grounds for dismissal. Still, I admired a lot of what Acta did, and I think I appreciated him more than I did Eric Wedge. In fact, I think the former is a better all around manager, and he’s been a victim of the talent around him in both Washington and Cleveland. I said earlier in the year that Acta’s National League style and the ability to push the buttons that he’s actually been given was admirable. I point to the lineup shuffle of Choo to the leadoff spot and Brantley to the middle of the order as a prime example of this. Is Michael Brantley a middle of the order hitter? No, not in a good lineup, but it was the right move with the trash heap that was dumped on Acta’s welcome mat. If you look at the run differential of this team and their win-loss record in the early part of both seasons, maybe Acta was in fact an illusionist, convincing many that this team was a true contender.
Those aforementioned collapses didn’t come without their explanations, however. Last year, it was the slew of injuries and the fact that some of the young players and rookies being counted on just ran out of gas. This year, the injury were there too. Hafner, Tomlin, Chisenhall, and Hagadone all missed significant time, not to mention Sizemore, Carrasco, and Rafael Perez, all potentially key members of this team who suited up for a grand total of ZERO games this season. But, I won’t use the injuries as an excuse.
Instead, you have to look at Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez as co-signers on Manny’s pink slip. If even one of these guys pitches up to pre-season expectations, maybe we’re not having this conversation. Maybe the Indians have more of a cushion in the division than they did in late June or early July. Maybe the fall isn’t so steep. Those two have combined for 20 wins, 32 losses, 30 wild pitches, and a combined ERA of 5.20! From your two front end of the rotation pieces, you get K/BB ratios of 1.77 and 1.51 respectively. Once the slide was in full swing, it was only sped up by the departure of veterans Damon and Lowe. With no clubhouse leaders and the injuries piling up, the giant boulder kept picking up speed rolling downhill until the Indians had hit rock bottom in the AL Central. Anyway you slice it, though, Acta had no chance with these two 4-5 starters leading his rotation.
Instead, why not punish the man who traded the team’s two top pitching prospects for Jimenez, who has been an undeniable, thorough, and complete bust and disappointment from day one? Why not roll the figurative head of the guy who misinterpreted this team’s contention window and now has it firmly in contention purgatory? Why not IMMEDIATELY terminate the man who thought it was a wise decision to write Grady Sizemore a $5 million check for showing up at Spring Training and getting hurt again?
The timing of it all upsets me most. Antonetti explained last night that the timing was due to them just having come to this decision and consequently not wanting Acta to have to sit through the end of season player and coach evaluations out of fairness to him. I do not believe that for one second. It was a cowardly move, made the day of a Browns’ game to minimize attention. If the end goal was to give Sandy Alomar Jr. a fair assessment in a audition as skipper, why not make this move 20, 25, 30 games ago when we all knew it was going to happen? It only highlights the slow-moving, backward, behind-the-time, and cowardly thought process of the archaic Tribe front office.
If the team is not planning on spending $20-30 million more next season, hiring Terry Francona is their attempt at putting lipstick on the pig that is the roster. If I were Francona, I would institute the ten foot pole rule and never take this job, only to tarnish my legacy. The easy choice is Alomar, but if that happens, I at least hope they give the first-time manager the patience that they showed Eric Wedge back in 2004 when they hired him. Acta only got three years, maybe due to his previous stint with the Nationals. Given the roster’s current climate, if Alomar only gets three years to prove himself, he’ll be let go after the 2015 season2 for not making chicken salad out of chicken [poop], same as Chef Acta.
No, if the team is not serious about adding payroll, then the best decision is to go the ultra-cheap route and hire interim bench coach Mike Sarbaugh. The guy’s done nothing but win as he’s moved his way up through the system ranks, managing since 2004. He has experience managing nearly the entire current roster. Part of this sentiment is that I respect Sandy far too much to root for the team hiring him as a PR move only to sacrifice him up in a few years when it’s convenient for the front office to change the guard again. Sandy’s interviewed for three managing positions, and if the Tribe doesn’t give him the chance, someone else undoubtedly will and soon.
I’m dead serious when I say that the Dolans’ statement on the support of Antonetti scares me. Without acknowledgment that this plan has failed and failed miserably, the attendance will only get worse, the losses will continue to pile up, the animosity will grow, and we will then truly be the Kansas City or Pittsburgh-type franchise. What’s to stop the team from being relocated without something to change its prospects? This franchise needs a life preserver. In the end, it was easier to pile it all on Acta then to blame the MLB economics, the general manager, the owner, or the underachieving core. That’s all this cowardly move was about. It’s another sign that the Cleveland Indians just don’t get it.
A local hero like Sandy doesn’t deserve that fate.
(Photo: Cleveland.com/MCT Photo)