MANNY ACTA: I don't think anybody could come out and say they're close to accomplishing what they want to accomplish. It's just the first day. I think for us they're going good. You know, Jim [Bowden] is a 24/7 guy who's going to do everything under his power to improve our club. That's what we came over here for.
Q. Could you talk about how important it is just to get some bats into this lineup? Could you talk about that, especially the power?
MANNY ACTA: It's very important, and it's not only because of the power but also because of the depth of our club, because we were able to see that last year when a lot of those guys went down. That's what - we just stopped competing, because when you're building in our position, you need almost every one of those guys healthy, and hitting on all cylinders for us to be able to compete in tough conditions. So we do need some help offensively, it's not a secret.
Q. With Willingham being there, how do you see the outfield shaking out?
MANNY ACTA: Well, the winter is not over yet, and we like him and we like Olsen a lot, and in 200 innings he's never been on the DL, young guy, and competition brings the best out of every guy. But I'm not going to tell you right now how the outfield is going to shape up because spring training is still a month or so away, and we're not going to be ruffling any feathers yet.
Q. What kind of a catcher has Flores been for you?
MANNY ACTA: We're very happy with him. He came along faster than what we thought. We thought that he was one more year away from catching every day, and as we had such a tough season last year, some of those doors that were shut down for us, some of them were opened, like Flores getting the opportunity to play because of Lo Duca's injury, and he stepped up and played way above our expectations for at least the first four months of the season.
Q. Does that go both offensively and defensively?
MANNY ACTA: Yes, we are very happy with the way he played at both ends. He's a guy that for his age, he impressed us with his work ethic when he came down to defense because he spent a lot of time on video, in the video room, worrying about what he was doing, and also, he took a lot of time studying the game plan, the pitching plan that Randy [St. Claire] put together for us. You know, we were impressed. He's still very young, and obviously most of those kids want to hit, that's the main thing. But he did a very good job separating both.
Q. Is he the kind of guy who likes to have a veteran backup still sharing time with him or working with him?
MANNY ACTA: Yeah, we would like to have a guy that can push him. It's such an early age that he doesn't feel it's all his, and he can just sit down and rest. That's not his makeup or his character, but we as managers always like to do that, so we like probably a guy that can push him and give him a run for his money.
Q. That said, how do you think [Wil] Nieves is doing?
MANNY ACTA: He did a tremendous job for us. The track record of Nieves as a hitter didn't indicate that he was going to do what he did for us. We felt very comfortable with him catching when working Flores' days off. Actually offensively he did a lot better than a lot of us were expecting.
Q. Is he a guy that can push Flores?
MANNY ACTA: I don't think - we're not meeting on an everyday basis - I mean, on a day-to-day thing. We're meeting on taking over and taking his job. I don't think a lot of people see that in Nieves. We see him as a backup. We're talking about a guy that Flores can feel, hey, if I don't stay on top of my game, this guy can just take over for me and take my job. That's the way we see it.
Q. From a pitching standpoint, you and Jim [Bowden] have both indicated how much you like your young staff and the guys like Lannan and of course the guys that are there and progressing. How important would it be to get another arm through free agency or through a trade from a veteran standpoint?
MANNY ACTA: It's important. We do have a couple of guys like Redding, and Perez pitched well for us, and we do need one or two guys like that that can help our young guys. You just don't want to be developing five guys at the same time and not knowing what you're going to get from day-to-day. We understand that, it's very important, and I think it's going to be addressed. Depending on what you want to call a veteran guy, you just don't want to bring a 45-year-old in there that's not going to help you stay competitive.
Q. Fans always want to see teams make moves this time of year, do something. How important is it in your clubhouse to see the front office doing something to go forward here?
MANNY ACTA: It's very important, and I think we already are showing that by acquiring Olsen and Willingham. That was a step in the right direction. We do need to do it, because we need to send a message not only that we're trying to develop our farm system and our young talent, but hey, fans already saw the brand-new stadium, and now we have to put a better product on the field and be able to start winning and developing at the same time.
Q. Moving forward, obviously everyone knows you need the power hitting. But what do you want to see better in terms of on the field?
MANNY ACTA: I think what I want to see better is add a couple of bats, like you were saying. That will help what I want to see. I want to see more runs. We need to score more runs. A lot of things happened that we couldn't control. Our defense obviously went backwards this year, but with all the guys that went down, obviously that didn't help. That needs to improve. Our defense needs to improve.
Q. This organization and this ownership sort of view free agency at the elite level as something that's not right for this franchise at this point and where it is in the rebuilding, so my question is have you gotten indications, or do you believe from ownership that there could be a change in that? Obviously you guys have been linked to one very elite type of free agent. Have you gotten an indication from ownership that there's been this sort of change in philosophy or that they're open to something?
MANNY ACTA: I think a lot of people have gotten this - have gotten confused. It's not that they're not willing to go out there and sign a free agent; it's we're looking for the free agent that can fit for us in the long-term, and if the right guy is out there, then our ownership group has shown so far that they'll be willing to make the move.
Q. They've shown that how?
MANNY ACTA: Well, just by all the rumors that you guys are spreading every single day.
Q. Everyone knows that you didn't have much to work with, but the reality is that this could be - this could be your last year of your contract.
MANNY ACTA: I feel grateful that with the economy the way it is right now and with the unemployment percentage in the United States, I have a job for 2009. I think it would be very selfish of me to be worrying about 2010 and years to come. I was hired three years ago here to do a job, and they hired me, so obviously it's on their side whether they thought that three years was enough or it's not enough. And I really don't worry about that because if it ends tomorrow, I'm going to have a job somewhere, whether it's Bellingham, Washington, farm leagues and rookie ball or somewhere in the Big Leagues.
Q. What are your thoughts on Emilio Bonifacio, who you dealt to the Marlins in the trade for Olsen and Willingham?
MANNY ACTA: Electrifying player. We are very happy getting Willingham and Olsen, but also we gave up a good player, and this is a guy who has a chance to be a top of the lineup guy, showed very good defense for us at second base, and right now he's playing very well in winter ball. The only issue we had with Emilio is we wanted him to get better from the right side of the plate. We felt that he was much better from the left side, and just continue to develop as a hitter knowing the strike zone because his game will depend a lot on his on-base percentage. But they got a very good player.
Q. The Marlins have said that they may try him at third base for spring training. What do you think how he would play at that position?
MANNY ACTA: He's a very good infielder. You know, I really can't comment on what they're going to do because I don't know what their plans are with the players they have there. I've never seen him play third. I've seen him play short, second and outfield, so I have no idea how he'll do over there.
Q. You had Alex [Rodriguez] on your provisional roster going into the '06 WBC. Was there ever a point you actually thought he was going to play for you guys, or did you assume that ultimately he would mind up playing for the U.S.?
MANNY ACTA: I'll tell you what, we were in such a great position that we really didn't worry so much about it. When you had a team where the only options were Beltran and Feliz coming off that great year and Aramis Ramirez and those guys on your roster, we didn't even think he was going to play for anybody. We thought that his stature and the value that he had for his club probably it was going to be tough for him to play. We actually had him on our roster, but we were not actually counting on him to play.
Q. What do you think about him playing for the DR this go-around?
MANNY ACTA: I think it's making a lot of people happy back home. I mean, being able to have the best player in the world right now on your team, and more power to him that he's to be able to do that after representing the USA in the first one. But I know he's making a lot of people happy back home.
Q. Do you see Anderson - he did well for you last year, Anderson Hernandez as your lead-off hitter?
MANNY ACTA: Right now, if the season starts right now, I don't think he'll be hitting lead-off. We don't want to put too much pressure on him. He'll go into spring training and we'll see how things fall into place. No, we're not looking futuristically having Anderson Hernandez being our lead-off hitter.
Q. What about playing every day?
MANNY ACTA: Well, obviously right now he has the inside track, playing every day at second base. He played very well for us since we acquired him from the Mets, and he's playing very well right now in winter ball, and he comes into spring training fitting those criteria that we have, which is long-term. He's a young kid. If he's the real thing, then we got a good player that's only 25, 26 years old, and if not, at worst we have a very good utility infielder.
Q. How much of [Ryan] Zimmerman's year was physical, how much of it was not
having much around him at a lot of points in the season, his own frustrations?
MANNY ACTA: I think it was physical. I think the fact that this kid lost 50 games, that says it all. I'll take my chances with him playing 50 more games. I guarantee you that one guy alone would have made a difference, even on our record, because he's such an impact player in our lineup, not only offensively but defensively more than anything. I think the fact that he lost 50 games, and then when he came back, he took time, also, after that to get his timing down and his strength and his hands. I think it was more physical than anything else, because in the past I saw him here without the best protection in the world, seeing being able to produce for us.
Q. How is Nick Johnson progressing? Anything new on his rehab?
MANNY ACTA: Right now the doctors are assuring us that he's going to be 100 percent by spring training.
Q. What's kind of the level of activity he's at right now?
MANNY ACTA: He's swinging the bat.
Q. How tough is it when you know that with his history of injury that even if he comes to spring training 100 percent, there's still that great unknown with him?
MANNY ACTA: Well, it's tough, but I'll tell you what, as you guys can attest, you guys are the witness of how much interest Nick Johnson gets, especially in these meetings, because everybody knows how good he is when he's healthy. But that being said, we know the history and we just have to prepare ourselves. That's why we're searching for a guy that can hit in the middle of the lineup and drive in some runs for us, because we just don't know. It's the same case with Shawn Hill. Things have changed. I can't tell you that I'm sitting right here, right down drawing our starting rotation penciling in Shawn Hill in any spot like we did in the past, because it is what it is. The injuries have just made us prepare ourselves for those type of things.