With ESPN broadcasting the Rangers and Cardinals in tonight's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, the folks at the Worldwide Leader graciously made former manager and current analyst Manny Acta available for a Q&A with us in advance of the game.
AJM: Thank you for taking the time out to visit with us prior to the 2011 World Series rematch series. In looking at the Rangers, prior to their taking 3 of 4 from Oakland, the Rangers were going through what was a disastrous stretch -- they had six straight home losses and had lost 14 out of 20. I know you spent a lot of years as a coach and as a manager -- when a team is going through a stretch like that, particularly a team that has playoff aspirations, what is it that a manager does, or can do, if anything, when his team is going through a bad run to help his team get out of the slump?
Acta: I think the manager's job is to recognize the type of players he has -- and in Wash's case, he knows he has a bunch of veteran players that understand that they have a long road ahead of them still. Even when they went through a really, really hard stretch -- they are very tough at home, probably the best team when playing at home, but the offense just deserted them for a period of days -- he understands the type of players he has, he's got a group of veteran guys, and you just continue to allow those guys to get out there and play, and not get down on themselves, because its a very long season.
AJM: What do you think Ron Washington's strengths are as a manager? He's had a lot of success with the Rangers, but a lot of Ranger fans will get on him because of strategic decisions that he makes, and he comes under more criticism than you'd expect for a manager who took his team to back-to-back World Series appearances.
Acta: Wash is a very good communicator and a very good motivator. You need that at the big league level, because players play and coaches coach, and when guys get it done, the coach doesn't get enough credit. I think Wash has his players' backs, and vice versa, because he is honest with them. He has always backed them up, and never gives up on them, and they show the same loyalty back to him. That's what makes him successful, because managing in the big leagues is just like managing any company -- its handling people. And I think he does a very good job of being straightforward with those guys and always having their back.
AJM: You were talking about coaches, and one of the things that this recent bad stretch prompted was a lot of questioning and criticism of first year hitting coach Dave Magadan. There were fans wondering if the team made a mistake in bringing Magadan in from outside the organization, given how the batters were struggling. Given your experience, how much can a hitting coach really do when there's the sort of team-wide offensive slump on a team with players you know have a track record of hitting?
Acta: The thing that a hitting coach can't do is panic. Dave is a terrific hitting coach -- he has a track record at the major league level. I have never seen a hitting coach take a swing, and that's what people need to understand. All he can do is prepare those guys to the best of his ability, get them ready to handle the opposing pitcher and the guys who are coming out of the bullpen, and make sure that guys are prepared. After that, you can't take a bat and go to the batter's box for them. When a team goes through a six, seven, eight game stretch and it doesn't hit, its just part of baseball. I understand the 24-7 media coverage nowadays, and we do need to talk about everything, but when 162 games are being played, these types of things are going to happen. There were so many people that were writing teams off three weeks into the season, and now, we're not even halfway through the season, and some of those teams are climbing back and putting up a fight. A week doesn't define a team or a hitting coach -- especially a guy like Dave who has a track record -- so the best thing is not to panic and continue to prepare the guys, because its going to come back. And the last series against the Oakland A's, a team that has been so tough on them and has that never die type of attitude -- the Rangers came back and won three out of four games in what was a terrific series.
AJM: Continuing on our theme of things about the offense the fans have been unhappy about, Elvis Andrus has come under a lot of scrutiny. After signing this big contract extension, he's really had a very disappointing year, but Ron Washington -- who, as you mentioned, is known for having his players' backs -- has stuck with Elvis at the top of the lineup. When you have a guy like Elvis who has a track record, but who has been going through a year long slump, how long do you as a manager wait before moving him down in the lineup?
Acta: You just mentioned that, this is a guy who has a track record, who has been there, done that, and its not fair to say he's had a bad year because we're not even halfway through it yet. He's had a couple of bad months, and its a long, long, long season, and you do have to have loyalty to guys like that. But there comes a time where, Wash does a good job communicating with these guys, Wash is going to have to talk to him and do what's best for the team. But it comes down to options -- its not just moving a guy to be moving him, its does he have a better option? With the injuries they have -- and I know Moreland is coming back -- it isn't so easy just to move a guy to be moving him, if they don't have the options there for another guy to hit at the top of the order. Elvis has been productive for years. I think Elvis is very smart, and there will come a time when Wash approaches him, and he's got an option that will help him in the short-term until Elvis gets right, and then he'll have to make a decision on that.
AJM: Obviously, part of the discussion with Elvis has also involved Jurickson Profar. Profar is 20 years old, he's very exciting, but Elvis and Ian Kinsler are the starters at shortstop and second base right now, and they aren't moving mid-season. The Rangers have been having Profar play multiple positions, and are working with him now on learning the outfield, so he can be an option there as well, enabling the Rangers to keep their 25 best players in the majors while also getting Profar enough at bats that his development isn't stunted. What are your thoughts on Profar, and how the Rangers are choosing to handle him right now?
Acta: Obviously, he's a very exciting player, and a guy who is going to be very productive at the major league level. As long as they get him enough at bats, they're going to be okay with him. The only issue that I have with that is if he doesn't get enough at bats. But if they continue to put him in different positions and get him enough at bats that its not going to hurt his development, then I'm fine with it. I think they have come to the conclusion that they are better with him on the major league roster than with him down in AAA, and I know he's going to be playing some outfield too, and they want to keep his bat around, especially right now with a situation where Elvis is not swinging the bat the way he's capable of. They want to keep that bat in there, as well as the energy that this kid brings. So the only issue I have with it is if they don't get him enough at bats. But as long as they give him enough at bats, I'm okay with it, regardless of where they play him.
AJM: Something that is bad news for the national TV audience is that Yu Darvish is not going to start Sunday -- he was originally slated to start that game, but then the Rangers moved his start back to Tuesday, so we don't have a Darvish/Wainwright matchup tonight. That said, he's followed up a successful rookie year with an even better sophomore campaign, and the Rangers signed him with the belief that he could be one of the few legitimate aces in baseball. Do you think at this point it is fair to put him in that category with guys like Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez?
Acta: Absolutely, without a doubt, this guy belongs up there. He's been one of the most dominant pitchers, and he has shown that since he has been in the States. He belongs in that group, and any baseball people you talk to will tell you that. And it is too bad for the series not to have him face Wainwright, but they know their team, and they should not do things just to accommodate national television, or the fans for that matter. They've got to do what is best for their team, but this is going to be a great series, even with the Rangers not having Harrison and some of their best arms right now -- hopefully they'll add a couple of those guys down the road -- but even if Darvish is not pitching, Holland is probably their best matchup starting tonight (ed note -- this interview was done on Friday), and its still going to be a great series, because these are two good teams, and the way the Rangers played the last series, I think they are on the comeback after their recent struggles. And its just too bad that we're not going to see Wainwright against Darvish.
AJM: One last question before we let you go -- after making it to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, last year's team was seen by a lot of people as a disappointment after "only" making it to the Wild Card Game after the late season collapse. Do you see the 2013 Rangers as a team that can be a World Series contender, that can get back to where they were in 2010 and 2011?
Acta: I have them as a playoff team, and once you get there, anything can happen. I think they've done a tremendous job plugging in those holes left by the departure of Napoli and Hamilton and Young, bringing really good short-term signings in like Pierzynski and the Big Puma. They have done a solid job of that, and I feel they have the talent, and they are a playoff team. Also, I think you can never underestimate that front office, because they have always done whatever they need to do to take the next step, so I do feel that if they need something, the front office is going to go get it at the trade deadline.