Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta Relaxed and Ready for New Season

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ask Manny Acta about how he has spent the last few weeks, and he reduces the full itinerary -- the family trip to London, the royal palace tours, the self-help and history books he's devoured -- into a single net result.

"Just getting smarter," Acta said. "This whole offseason has been about reading and traveling. That's all I've done."

With the Washington Nationals one month away from spring training, the demonstration of progress will take on particular weight for the team's third-year manager. Though the club can pick up an option to extend Acta's contract through 2010, it hasn't done so yet. And one source yesterday indicated such a move won't come anytime soon.

As a result, Acta -- who relied on patience to guide him through the injuries and losing of 2008 -- again finds himself waiting. This, he said, is fine by him. Even without job security beyond 2009, he does not believe he's a lame duck.

"If you need to have a three- or four-year deal for somebody to respect you, then they have never respected you before," Acta said. "People respect you because of the way you treat them and the way you act. I believe most players on teams don't even know the contract statuses of their managers.

"I'm not the only man in history working on the last year of his contract. Especially with how the economy is right now, I would be very selfish or ungrateful if I come out and complain that I don't have a contract for 2010 when 2009 just started. I won't complain about that kind of stuff. I'll give my best every single day."

Just as the 2007 season was winding down, Washington picked up Acta's option for 2009. As the 2008 season finished, Washington made a different decision. The team fired five assistants -- everybody except pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

In a sense, that remains Washington's most forceful move of the offseason, besides the November trade with Florida that netted Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. When Acta was in London, he constantly scanned for hot stove news, wondering if his team found further ways to improve. But his phone didn't work there. And his wife had not allowed him to pack his computer. He had to rely, then, on the British newspapers, which made for lousy guides on any subject but cricket and soccer.

"I couldn't believe how far removed it is from baseball there," Acta said.

After its failed bid for premium free agent Mark Teixeira, Washington has turned its attention primarily to free agents Adam Dunn, 29, and Orlando Hudson, 31. Nationals officials remain interested foremost in building a young nucleus and acquiring only players who would still be in their primes several years down the road. Hudson, a switch-hitter who could play second base, and Dunn, a first baseman or outfielder, just fit that category -- and both could provide a left-handed presence in the lineup.

Still, the team is pessimistic about signing either player. Their initial asking prices seem a bit high, one source said, and the Nationals probably will become a realistic contender for Hudson and Dunn only if league-wide interest in either player cools.

"The offseason is not over yet," Acta said. "We're still working on adding a piece or two. A lot has been said about not adding anybody in Vegas [at the winter meetings]. But we did add Olsen and Willingham beforehand. Those were two important pieces of the Marlins the last two years, and they make our club better.

"I'm pumped and excited, because we do have more depth now. And competition brings the best out of people. As a manager, that gives you more peace of mind."

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