LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Manny Acta is understanding of the Indians' situation. The manager knows it is going to take patience, providing time for the club's young players to develop, in order to regain solid footing in the American League Central. That explained why, when asked on Monday for his expectations of Cleveland's involvement in these Winter Meetings, Acta answered bluntly. "It's obvious that we're not going to walk out of here with any of these big names," Acta said with a shrug. "That's not our plan and our vision right now."
It is the type of situation that could depress an Indians fanbase that has not celebrated a World Series title since 1948. It doesn't help when they see the rival Tigers opening their wallets in free agency to sign former Indians catcher Victor Martinez and reliever Joaquin Benoit, or the White Sox countering by reeling in slugger Adam Dunn. Acta, on the other hand, views it as a situation with promise through youth. The Indians are not able to spend freely this winter -- in fact, the payroll is being scaled back dramatically for the second year in a row -- but Acta does not see why that means Cleveland can't hang with the big boys of the division. "[We'll] try to prove all of you guys wrong and shock the world," Acta said. "Basically, that is what we're going to do." Acta backs up his bold prediction by pointing to the San Diego Padres of 2010. Working with a payroll just a touch over $40 million and written off by most prognosticators in the preseason, the Friars came within two games of the National League West crown and a playoff berth. Acta believes his Indians have that type of potential. Aiding his position is the fact that the Indians showed solid improvement in the second half a year ago, especially on the mound. After the All-Star break, Cleveland posted a team ERA of 3.89, including a 2.95 ERA for the bullpen. Both figures ranked fourth in the AL. "Not too many people picked the San Diego Padres to be where they were last year," Acta said. "Our mentality is we like the way our kids play the second half. 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." The Tigers and White Sox have shown aggressiveness on the open market this winter, keeping the competitive gap close with the reigning division champions in Minnesota. Cleveland, meanwhile, has remained quiet, limited in how much money it can use to entice free agents. That said, Acta believes the Winter Meetings can still be productive for the Tribe. "There is a chance that we'll walk out of here with some of our needs being resolved," Acta said. Those needs include hunting for help at third base and in the rotation, as well as possibly finding a right-handed bat for the outfield and another backup catcher option. More than anything, though, Acta is hoping the expected return of both center fielder Grady Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana will play the role of major offseason acquisitions. Sizemore and Santana -- both returning from left knee operations -- are currently projected to be in the lineup for the Indians come Opening Day. If that indeed happens, Acta feels his offense will have a much-improved look over the cast that took the field without them for much of last season. "We were offensively challenged a little bit last year," Acta said, "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 ... I think it will be different." The way Acta sees it, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. That is why he mostly shrugged off the marquee acquisitions by the Indians' division rivals. "They've been doing it for a while, the Tigers and the White Sox," Acta said. "They've picked up some big-time players with Dunn and Victor Martinez, and Benoit. 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. "I like our division. I like our chances."