- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

When general manager Jim Bowden strutted Thursday over the signing of pitching prospect Jack McGeary — it was worth strutting over, too, a real coup for the Washington Nationals — he was in such a good mood that he predicted manager Manny Acta would be named National League Manager of the Year.

If Bowden feels that good about his manager, why not submit a ballot in the form of a picked-up contract option for 2009? Who wants a “manager of the year” to go into the offseason in the final year of his contract?

Acta is finishing the first year of a two-year contract, and the Nationals have the option to retain him for 2009 and 2010. It’s difficult to believe the organization won’t pick up the option for at least 2009. If that’s the case, why wait?

It would be fitting in these final days at RFK Stadium if club officials showed they really do believe they have the “manager of the year” and pick up the option. It would be yet another signal to the fans of the commitment of the Lerner/Kasten ownership to a long-term plan for success.

It also would be a sign to players on this team and potential free agents on other teams that something special is happening here and that the manager, whose reputation among the league’s players has grown this season, will be part of that something.

Of course, team president Stan Kasten responded to a question about the issue as if he had been asked for the Strategic Air Command launch codes. He said he never discusses contract issues about general managers and managers, which made me wonder about those television commercials in which Acta and his players “pledge their allegiance” to Washington. I guess how long that pledge lasts is confidential.

Bowden toed the same party line. But it must have sounded ridiculous to him not to at least state the obvious, that the club certainly wants Acta around longer than just next year.

“Manny Acta is our manager, and his contractual situation is between him and the club,” Bowden said. “He is our manager, and we expect him to be for a long time.”

How hard was that to say?

Acta’s contract status probably has not been on the radar of the front office, which has been busy signing the club’s top 20 draft choices — a noteworthy accomplishment. There is no sense of urgency because Acta is locked up through 2008, and the club controls the two options after that.

Acta said a decision is not pressing for him but would be welcome news nonetheless.

“It is something that is not on my mind right now because of the fact that I still have one more year left on my contract,” Acta said. “It is something that I would welcome because I love it here. I love the direction that we are going, and I love the city and the fans.

“It is their option. It is something that I can’t control, and I usually don’t worry about things I can’t control. I will do the best that I can, and they have one more year to evaluate me and then go from there.”

I doubt the Nationals brain trust needs more time to evaluate Acta. He has exceeded all expectations for a rookie manager with no major league playing experience who entered what had been the most dysfunctional situation in baseball (save of course, for that of the Baltimore Orioles, who have retired the trophy).

Acta never cracked when observers, myself included, forecast a catastrophic season, predictions that appeared to come true when this spare-parts team got off to a 9-25 start.

Acta never lost his composure publicly or his faith in his players privately, and they responded by playing hard until the last out of every game.

The Nats have posted a 46-44 record since May 11, even after a sweep by the New York Mets this weekend. Two games over .500 in the National League over the course of a full season, and you are in a pennant race. You are “manager of the year.”

It may be a tough sell for a manager with a losing record to win that honor. Joe Girardi did so last year when he led the Florida Marlins to a 78-84 record, but that is only six games under .500, not 14, where the Nationals are. Acta, though, is more deserving of the honor than Girardi, who had far more talent on his squad and an ego he did nothing to earn.

But the Nationals can award Acta their own version of that prize in the closing days of RFK, surrounded by memories of Washington baseball past.

The Nats can make their commitment to Washington’s baseball future official by telling everyone — once it passes through the proper security channels, of course — that Manny Acta indeed will be the club’s manager next year and the year after that and perhaps beyond as well.

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