Bill Ladson of MLB.com recently sat down with the well-read master for a brief chat regarding how awesome the Nats will be next year. Think the master would let us down with a John Chaney-esque pessimistic viewpoint of his Nats, with what some would say their underdeveloped talent, latently contract-extended possibly disgruntled stars, constantly questioned questionable attitudes, and fragile pitching staff that practically IVs cortizone into surgically restructured ligaments between innings? HA! Below you will find Ladson's interview transcribed via copy and paste, with our patented 'tism analysis (ANALY-TISM) following every answer.
The Nationals were supposed to be historically bad in 2007, lacking starting pitching and having lost outfielder Alfonso Soriano to free agency. However, manager Manny Acta proved detractors wrong, guiding the team to a 73-89 record, and earning four points in last season's Manager of the Year voting.
This year, Acta expects the Nationals to be even better with general manager Jim Bowden's acquisition of outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes and catchers Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada this offseason. MLB.com caught up with Acta recently to talk about how good the Nationals can be in 2008.
ANALY-TISM: This is the stock intro paragraph for the Nats this year. Where 2007 was defying expectations, coddling talent, garnering notice, and being overly shrewd with the Plan. Love the mention of the manager of the year (aka "The Manny") votes.
MLB.com: After a handful of exhibition games, how do you feel about the '08 Nationals?
Manny Acta: I feel good about them. I think our offense has gotten a lot better. I also don't have to motivate as much as last year because guys are motivating each other with the competition that is going on in camp.
ANALY-TISM: "Good," "a lot better": two terms actively laying out the Plan's progress and the stirring development the Nats have experienced in the offseason, robbing the Mets of their talent in exchange for a salty jerk-type and an unneccessarily praised/paid .230 hitter, brilliantly investing in low-riskers like Dukes, and improving swings with the hitting-catcher signings. Manny no longer needs to chant successories to his dugout as if they were bible verses at Coors Field. Nope, his 'tism laid a foundation that other players are building upon.
MLB.com: Entering Spring Training, is this team better than the 2007 Nationals?
Acta: It is better than last year. We have answered some of those questions that we had last year. We have a big improvement in center field with Milledge. We added Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada. We are going to have Wily Mo Pena for a full season. Our bullpen is coming back intact and Luis Ayala will have one more year of rest from the elbow surgery. He is already showing that he has that zip on his fastball.
ANALY-TISM: Doesn't get more definitive than that, Mr. Ladson. We think the authoritativeness was in response to the redundancy of this question. Speaking of questions, aka the ones Jim Bowden and company brilliantly answered this offseason, what other ones might you have for this current squad that aren't speculative? A non-purveyor may come up with these: What if Patter-Hill gets hurt earlier than expected? What if Lastings attends a gogo? What if Elijah Dukes is left unsupervised? Save the what-ifs for 60000 word Bill Simmons articles, bro. This team has answers at every position. The only questions remain in how the Master decides to place each guy every day. A better question would be, why WHY would anything other than "Busting Loose" be chosen as the home run theme at Nationals Park?
Another lovely thing happening in this answer is Manny's knowledge that the brilliance of last season, including their lock-down pen, their nabbing of Wily Mo, and their healthening of Ayala's arm, is intact, and it will further help this season.
MLB.com: Talk about your starting rotation. Is it better than last year?
Acta: I think it's better than last year because those guys have a year of experience in the big leagues. It's still not where you want it to be when it comes to competing for a division title, but we'll get to that point. It's a lot better than last year.
ANALY-TISM: Division title: "We'll get to that point"? Frankly, "a lot better than last year" ought to do the trick once all of the Mets' high priced acquisitions belly-up and the Phillies become the Phillies again. Matt Chico has survived the rigors, John Lannan has traversed the long paths, earning high accollades in the process, and young guns Hanrahan, Ballester, and, jeez even O'Connor, await their eventual dances with glory. Those dudes plus two or three good weeks from Patter-Hill equals an NL East crown earlier than even the Boz might predict.
MLB.com: You have Milledge on this roster. Based on what we have seen so far, he is a good player. What do you think?
Acta: I think Milledge is the key to the offense. That rotating door that we had in center field last year is over. We had five or six guys. Now, we have Milledge.
ANALY-TISM: Yes, it is lovely that that "rotating door" is closed (stopped? locked in place?), and the answer in center field is not a seldom hitting former switch-hitter prone to terribility. The future of the door-stopper, according to just about everyone, is as bright as all typical Nationals prospects in the eyes of us, and it's great to see the Master acknowledge that.
MLB.com: You have brought stability to this franchise. How do you think you have done since the Nationals hired you in November of 2006?
Acta: All the credit goes to Jim Bowden and the scouting department. They are the ones who have found the players and it has been a big, big turnaround compared to last year. I'm just part of the puzzle.
I think the players deserve the credit because they have bought into what we are trying to do here. They saw that it worked last year. Hopefully, they will continue to give us the best effort. We'll continue to move forward.
ANALY-TISM: Typical coy modesty from the Master, deflecting the great amount of praise leveled his way to his benefactors, much in the way he deflected the gushing the DC Optimist sent his way during that fantastic Caps game where he signed one of our business cards. The credited players here wouldn't have "bought into what we are trying to do here," without having a wondrous salesman.
MLB.com: What did you learn the most about yourself as a first-time Major League manager?
Acta: All the patience that I was preaching about in the Minor Leagues paid off in the Major Leagues. You still need to be patient because it is such a long season. You need to pay attention to every single guy and make everybody feel important. You have to keep motivating [players] regardless of a winning streak or a losing streak.
ANALY-TISM: And thus, the philosphy of the DC Optimist is properly laid out. Patience, preaching, every single guy, motivation regardless of winning or losing streaks: man Manny can get the eyes welling here. Our faith in these guys may seem blind and unfortunate to some more tism-hating inclined, but to us, and to inspirations like the Master, this undying faith in the progress of the local sports lingering juggernauts will bestow itself positively, trust.
MLB.com: Where did you learn to get the patience?
Acta: I learned it in the Minor Leagues. I started managing very early. In the Minor Leagues, it wasn't about winning. It was about developing players. A lot of times, you didn't have the choices of doing what you wanted to do. I was able to sit back and let guys do what they were supposed to do. I also found out that kicking and screaming doesn't get the best out of people most of the time.
ANALY-TISM: Hmmm, the philosophy of "developing players" leading to a better understanding of coaching as a whole is something this highly successful manager learned in the minor leagues? Sounds like eerily paralelling Capitals and their new coach Bruce Boudreau has the same sort of successful philosophy. Also: RE: Lame potential manager candidate from last season, here's that last line again: "kicking and screaming doesn't get the best out of people most of the time."
MLB.com: It's been said that you are the only person in baseball with the patience to manage Dukes, who has had his problems off the field. How do you feel about that assessment?
Acta: Well, I always feel I could handle any type of personality, but it has to come from him, too. I think it takes two to tango. We are already doing the best we can to put a program in place for him. Jim has done a tremendous job doing this. Dukes did very well during the offseason -- following everything. I hope that during the season he is able to follow everything. I'm going to do my best to keep him involved here and give him love. But he has to do his part, too.
ANALY-TISM: All Dukie needs is love people. He couldn't find love from his four baby's-moms, he couldn't find love from that decrepit franchise in Tampa, and he couldn't find love from his cellphone provider. Yet the Master is here to provide that man-love needed to elicit strong, 30-home-run potentials. Is it getting misty in here, or is it my sobs of joy?
MLB.com: Of the players you had last year, who are you expecting big years from?
Acta: To me, Ryan Zimmerman is ready to turn the corner and have a very good year for us. I think the new ballpark is going to help Austin Kearns turn things around.
ANALY-TISM: People are kinda scoffing that the Planners couldn't get Zimmerman locked into an Ovie-esque deal before his contract runs out in three years. This burgeoning support from the Master ought to help iron out any hurt feelings. And after being bewhildered by Robert F. (not Fick)'s dimensions dimentia, the efforts of Kearns go delightfully noticed as well.
MLB.com: If things go according to plan, can this team compete for a playoff spot this year?
Acta: That's the goal. We are going to play out the season. We are not good at making predictions. But I believe in them. We are going to play hard, continue to make progress and we'll see where it takes us.
ANALY-TISM: No, no predictions were made there, but no denial of potential was made there either. "That's the goal," can be counted on as a qualification of Ladson's question, like, if someone were to ask me, "Would you be able to eat three double-quarter pounders with cheese?" and I answered it with, "That's the goal," I think I would basically be saying yes. And three double QPCs aren't even that tough of a challenge, as aren't the Nats postseasoning. As Boz decreed a few months back, "...it does make it a lot easier for a team like the Nationals to get to the playoffs, or even into the World Series, by coming out of the N.L." As for our prediction? Lets just go with "that's the goal" for now.