If Acta Goes, Who Will Lead the Indians?
By Craig Gifford
What has happened to the Cleveland Indians since the end of July – a month-and-a-half stretch that has seen the club go from contenders to worst team in the American League – can not all be blamed on Manager Manny Acta. However, someone will have to be held accountable for one of the worst stretches of futility in the history of a team that has seen its fair share of futile play.
The easiest fall guy is always the manager. In this case, the owner and general manager should take the blame for assembling a team with so many flaws. However, you can not get rid of an owner and General Manager Chris Antonetti is only in his second year on the job. He could get a pass, in that regard, for another season.
Acta, though, is in his third year. Last year showed so much promise that a lot of people thought the Tribe could contend this season. Cleveland did contend until that ghastly 5-24 August. The team has seemingly lost it way, in all facets of the game. The Indians skipper has seemed lost as to how to get things turned back around. To many outsiders it feels Cleveland’s players are just going through the motions and riding out the reminder of a disappointing season. If that is true, then it is time for a new voice in the clubhouse. Acta, apparently, does not have the ear of his team.
The question is, if Acta goes, who will Cleveland bring in to replace him?
A big splash with a manager who has a winning pedigree seems unlikely. In baseball, finding a manger with World Series rings to his credit, and looking for work, is hard to come by. The only big name available is former Red Sox head honcho Terry Francona. Francona once played in the Indians organization, but he would seem a long shot to manage in Cleveland.
Francona became used to a culture in Boston where money was spent on free agents and homegrown players were paid to stay rather than traded away when their contracts were close to grown too large. With two championships under his belt, Francona could hold out for a situation that suits him and allows for immediate success. There is no need for someone like him to go to Cleveland, where winning is not guaranteed any time soon.
As for other past managers, currently out of work, none have had the success to really ignite hope for a fan base that needs some energy. There is no reason for the Indians to bring in a managerial retread who has not won with similar rosters in the past. That leaves two options, someone in-house or a former player.
In-house, the Indians have a guy who is a former player. That is bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr. He is on the fast track toward being a major league manager, on the radar of several teams. Some weeks ago, in this space, I wrote in greater detail why Alomar would not be a great choice. He might be good for nostalgic purposes, but would not be a big difference in the coaching style of Acta. Like Acta, he is low-key. This seems to be a team that needs someone to light a fire under it and get the best of the players.
Staying in-house, looking at the minor leagues could be a start. Mike Sarbaugh has had success at Triple-A Columbus. He managed many of the players on the Tribe roster before they broke through to the majors. He has won minor league championships with a lot of the guys the Indians will have on the roster in 2013. Sarbaugh has been in the Indians organization a long time, having been a minor league player and manager within the system since 1990. Sarbaugh seems like possible candidate to take over should the Tribe cut ties with Acta.
Of course, the baseball world has learned this season that having managerial or coaching experience is not a necessity. Look at what Robin Ventura has done for the team he used to play for, the Chicago White Sox. Last year, the Sox were an underachieving disaster. This year, Ventura, who had never coached at any level, has Chicago in first place in the American League Central Division going into the season’s final weeks. His success has opened the doors for others like him. The Red Sox are discussing former team captain Jason Varitek as a possible replacement should the team fire Bobby Valentine this offseason.
Cleveland could go that route. Beloved former player Omar Vizquel is retiring at season’s end. The Indians former Gold Glove shortstop has expressed in interest in coaching and would certainly light a spark, both on and off the field. Unlike Alomar, Vizquel was a vocal leader of the great Cleveland squads in the 1990s. He would be a change of pace from Acta. Tribe fans would certainly fall in love with the idea if it were to come to fruition.
Vizquel could be a good idea for the Indians if they do relieve Acta of his managerial duties. Untested, Vizquel would not command the pay of the top-tier managers. The change of pace in a seemingly dormant clubhouse would be refreshing. Gone would be the ho-hum attitude to losing, at the very least. It would spark interest from a waning fan base to see a former hero take the reigns. The second best fit, Sarbaugh, might be better served to coach in the majors. He has not had any playing or coaching time in the big leagues.
There is not guarantee, of course, that Acta is a dead man walking. In the likelihood that he is, what not put Little O in charge?
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images