If it is Manny Acta's turn, then it is his turn.
Generally speaking, I'd say he has about as much to do with the Washington Nationals' 45 losses as one of those big-headed, galloping presidents who tour Nationals Park most nights, but if it's going to make the Lerners and Stan Kasten feel better about themselves then, by all means, they should have at it.
As a baseball official said to me one recent night in D.C., nodding toward Acta, “If not here, then someplace else,” and I wouldn't be at all surprised that when the New York Mets weary of Jerry Manuel, they'll be happy to discover Manny Acta unemployed.
If I were an owner, and my baseball franchise looked like the Nats, and nobody wanted to come see them, listen to them on the radio or watch them on TV, I'd want quality people around. I'd want a man who knew a little something about baseball, because it would have become clear by now baseball was not my area of expertise. I'd put myself in charge of counting revenue-sharing money and sucking up to Scott Boras and ensuring Teddy Roosevelt won as often as Abe Lincoln, because anybody could do that.
Last I saw Acta, he'd spent most of the previous night grinding his molars into baby powder while his bullpen nearly ceded another ballgame, and the rest of it talking to Felipe Alou about managing in the big leagues. As always, Acta muscled up a smile, and a joke, and some optimism that the pitching would get better and so would the Nats.
Asked about himself, he'd said, “Ah, I'm fine.”
When the season began, about a third of the league's managers were working without guaranteed contracts beyond 2009, bringing an unusual potential for turnover even after Joe Maddon, Ron Washington and Cecil Cooper had their contacts extended. Arizona's Bob Melvin was fired the first week of May and Colorado's Clint Hurdle followed three weeks later, and if team president Kasten and his interim GM, Mike Rizzo, are looking for evidence of instant gratification, the results are mixed.
The Diamondbacks are 15-20 since going way out of the box with A.J. Hinch, who'd seen a lot of baseball, none of it as a coach or manager. The Rockies, however, appear to have found a personality match with Jim Tracy, the former Dodgers and Pirates manager who has led them to 13 wins in 17 games. They've won their last 11, which not only matches the longest winning streak in club history, but has everybody thinking for the moment about 2007 again, which, if nothing else, will sell some tickets in the short term.
Acta, of course, knows how this works and he recognizes vulnerability when he sees it, particularly when he's sitting on it. He has by far the worst pitching staff in the game, starting with a bullpen that has blown 15 of 24 save opportunities, a fact that cost him his pitching coach two weeks ago. The Nats have won three games since, so management might be in the mood for another sacrifice. If Kasten hopes at that point to duplicate – or even rub up against – the kind of spike the Rockies have generated, well, he ought to take a long, hard look at the roster and point to his Huston Street(notes), who has saved five of the Rockies' last seven wins.
Still, Kasten told reporters this weekend, “I can confess to you how perplexed I am by this season, this team and the things that are going on.”
Later, he added, “I'm troubled by everything.”
This is all the nature of the gig. Acta said so back in February, long before the Nats would start 0-7, and 13-36, and, no, it's not getting any better. He keeps sending out starters with ERAs over five and replaces them with relievers who blow holes in the few close leads they have. The Nats are decent enough on offense, but they can't score enough with this pitching staff. Nobody could.
Acta claimed then to be at ease with his contract – '09 is guaranteed, the club holds an option for '10 – and those close to him say he remains motivated by challenges of the day, not the threat of being fired.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he had said in spring training. “Everybody in life likes security. In this day, with the economy the way it is, it’d be too selfish of me to worry about not having a job in 2010 when I do have a job in 2009.”
Speaking broadly, no matter how things concluded with the Nats, he had added, “I’ll have a job.”
Meantime, this is what the manager of a bad team looks like, especially one in his first big-league job, holding his temper, covering for players and management. He lost 102 games last season. Given the chance, he's going to lose more than that – maybe a lot more than that – this season. And so would the next guy.
At a time when so much is wrong with the franchise, firing Acta would be the laziest of possible solutions. I'm guessing he can go ahead and start packing. It's just his turn.