It has been a little over a year since former Indians manager Manny Acta uttered what was probably his most famous quote.
After the Indians dropped an 8-4 road game to the Los Angeles Angels, they were 54-64. It was August 15, 2012, and the team was in the middle of a horrendous month that saw it go from playoff contender to also-ran.
Acta was asked about his team’s needs. The manager, perhaps annoyed with the losses piling up and seeing his job in jeopardy, basically took a shot at Cleveland’s management and the way the team was built.
“It’s no secret, we’re going to need to improve our offense,” Acta responded. “We’re going to have to find a solution in left field, we’re going to have to find a solution at first base and we’re going to have to find a solution at DH. That’s pretty obvious.”
“And the third base situation is not determined either. Lonnie (Chisenhall) has a broken arm. The guys that are here right now are fine and doing what they can, but we expect more.”
Acta’s comments sparked great debate, at the time, over exactly what the slumping Indians had to do to improve the ball club. In both 2011 and 2012, the Tribe started off hot to only fall apart in the final couple months and end up nowhere near contention when the games mattered in September.
Naturally, the now-former manager, took the blame for the team collapsing and was sent packing. Cleveland ushered in two-time, World Series winning manager Terry Francona. Certainly an upgrade was made there, as Acta has never so much as managed a playoff game.
However, Tribe management also did something a little bit unique over the offseason. The team spent money on free agents. As if taking heart to Acta’s plea, Cleveland opened up its wallet and shored up some of those trouble spots.
Last year, all the Indians had were Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley. If any of them faltered, the Tribe was in dire straits. The depth of the batting order and bench were minuscule.
Winter shopping brought in Nick Swisher to shore up first base. Michael Bourn was signed to play center field. That pushed Brantley to left field and take care of that concern. The Indians lost Choo from right field in a trade with the Reds and Diamondbacks. However, Cleveland received Drew Stubbs. Granted Stubbs is a downgrade, but his potential for power and speed made it an acceptable downgrade. That is especially true considering the Indians received highly touted pitching prospect Trevor Bauer from Arizona in the deal.
Cleveland’s offseason spree also netted bench players Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes and Jason Giambi who have all produced and been upgrades over a 2012 bench that saw the likes of Shelley Duncan, Johnny Damon and Lou Marson.
Perhaps the one spot where Tribe management did not listen to the former manager was at third base. Acta’s words of the hot corner being unsettled do ring true today. Chisenhall has continued to be unimpressive and the time may soon be coming for Cleveland to part ways with its once-promising prospect. An upgrade should probably be seriously considered, if one can be made, this coming winter.
The Indians, however, not only listened to Acta’s concerns with the offense, but also pumped new life into a sagging rotation. In 2012, Nos. 1 and 2 starters Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez were abysmal. Behind them was a pair of rookies in Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber. There was little else, rotation-wise.
Cleveland went out and found a hidden gem in Scott Kazmir. The team brought in a new pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, who has done wonders for Masterson and Jimenez. Bauer was added for minor league depth. McAllister and Kluber have been handled exceedingly well and have blossomed into fine starters, who should be part of the rotation for some time to come. The biggest deal, however, was Kazmir. Give management credit for taking a chance on a guy who had not pitched in a full season since 2010. The team saw something in him during winter ball and signing him has paid of huge.
Acta, now working for ESPN, must be wondering why he could never have been given so much to work with. The batting order, currently mired in slump, is much deeper than it has been in about five years. The rotation, with the emergence of Danny Salazar, is now actually a strength. Cleveland can make up for injuries now much better than it could during Acta’s tenure.
With more talent and veteran leadership, the Indians have not collapsed in August this year. The team will go into September with a chance to make the playoffs.
While Acta is gone, it may have actually been his words from last year that sparked what is going on with the Indians now. It is not often a manager will take a shot at management. He likely knew that the Tribe had gone off the tracks last year and he was destined to be gone. Those comments may not have sealed his fate, but did nothing to help. With fans and the media echoing Acta’s comments about needed upgrades at an exceedingly loud volume, Tribe management listened and took heart. The Dolan ownership opened its wallets and Cleveland management made some good moves.
Now it is up to the Tribe to not let the voices fade. The Indians are much improved, but probably still a key piece or two away from really being a title contender. This winter Cleveland can not forget its newfound want to pay to put a winner on the field. Another $5-$10 million more ought to be enough to bring in just a few more players that could help the team get from pretty good to really good. To think, it took a team bottoming out twice and a manager taking the ax to get to this point. However, the Indians are now back to the point where contention is real. Perhaps Acta should be thanked.