INDIANAPOLIS -- The Pepsi can that sat on the table in front of Indians manager Manny Acta belonged to Tony La Russa. Acta sat down for his Winter Meetings interview session with reporters Tuesday in the very spot La Russa had just occupied at the Indiana Convention Center. La Russa, the Cardinals' skipper, didn't pick up after himself, and Acta hoped to pick up some of the two-time World Series winner's vibe. He grabbed the can and rubbed it against his arm.
"Maybe something rubs off on me from him," Acta said with a smile. When it comes to Winter Meetings improvements, this is probably the best Acta's Indians can hope for. As is well-documented, they are not expected to be major players at this or any juncture of this winter's free-agent and trade markets. Hey, at least Acta picked up some style points for the Tribe. The striped black fedora he donned on this day made him look like he should be hanging out with Rocky Balboa on the mean streets of Philly. Suffice to say Acta doesn't shop in the same places as former skipper Eric Wedge. Acta, though, is inheriting the young ballclub Wedge left behind. And once again, he expressed enthusiasm about his new position with the Tribe and the core of players he'll be guiding in 2010. "I know that this team is only two years removed from being a game away from the World Series," Acta said, "and I do know that a couple pieces are no longer there. But I'm always looking at the possibility that one of those guys like, say, [Justin] Masterson or [Aaron] Laffey steps up, or Fausto [Carmona] is back to his old self. And we play in one of the most balanced divisions in the big leagues, which, if you look at it over the last three or four years, a different team has won it. So hey, we're going to Spring Training thinking, 'Why not us?'" Now, Acta knows that many people, including perhaps some of his players, will look at that quote and pay particular attention to the part about the pieces that are no longer in Cleveland. After all, you don't trade away the likes of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez without leaving a lasting impression. But Acta's first order of business with his new club, he said, will be to take the focus off of what's absent and place it on what is here. "We need to stop dwelling on the guys that left, because they're not coming back," he said. "[We need to] embrace the new kids that came aboard and are already ready to contribute at the big league level, and to face what it is. That's the type of market team that we are. This is what we're going to do. We need to work hard, outsmart, outwork, outscout, whatever we have to do to not fall into the excuse that we just don't have the right payroll." The Indians' budget is precisely what prevents them from being active participants in the circus that is the Winter Meetings. Acta has made it clear he'd like the Tribe to pursue a veteran starter and a right-handed bat, among other things, but he is as realistic as anybody about where the Tribe is financially. "I don't think we're trying to bring in any of the [Roy] Halladays, [Matt] Hollidays or [Jason] Bay guys into Cleveland," he said. "Obviously, they might come, but into the opposite clubhouse. "But we are looking at some scenarios. I think we are looking at maybe trying to acquire a utility infielder, a right-handed bat and possibly a backup veteran catcher. But nothing major. I think the whole baseball world knows where we stand." Acta, disposed by the Nationals in midseason last year, believes he's standing in a better spot with his new team. While the Nats were and are in the midst of a major building effort (to say it's a rebuild would imply that they were ever built in the first place), the Indians have a young nucleus that has had its first taste of the Majors, with more help on the way in a revamped farm system. "I don't see [the two jobs] as similar," Acta said, "because I think there are more pieces in place here in Cleveland. I think when we arrived over there [in Washington], we only had Ryan Zimmerman, basically, and we were looking for more pieces to add. ... But I'm getting into a situation where I already have one of the best right fielders in the American League in Shin-Soo Choo. We have Grady Sizemore, we have Travis Hafner, we have Jhonny Peralta, we have Asdrubal Cabrera. So that's what attracted me, and also the fact that the farm system is a rich one. So I'm looking down the line to see guys like Carlos Santana, Nick Weglarz, [Hector] Rondon, [Carlos] Carrasco, and that kind of really attracted me to the Indians." Now that he's with them, Acta the fashionista is ready to embark upon the real work ahead. He's hoping his experiences of the past will help him, and he's hoping for a little magic from that Pepsi can, too.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.