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12/08/08 11:51 PM EST

Acta confident in Nats' commitment

Manager, club agree that team must get key pieces to improve

LAS VEGAS -- The Nationals made a bold move to improve when they acquired left-hander Scott Olsen and left fielder Josh Willingham from the Marlins in a November trade. Now they're trying to help out manager Manny Acta even more as they look to add a slugger and a leadoff hitter.

"I think we already are showing the fans [we are improving] by acquiring Olsen and Willingham," Acta said during a session with reporters Monday at the Winter Meetings. "That was a step in the right direction. We need to send a message that not only are we're trying to develop our farm system and our young talent, but we have to put a better product on the field and be able to start winning."

The Nationals are willing spend a lot of money to sign a slugger this offseason and free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira has been their top target.

"It's very important [to improve the offense], and it's not only because of the power, but also because of the depth of our club. We were able to see that last year when a lot of those guys went down," Acta said. "That's why we just stopped competing. 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."

In assessing his 2009 team, Acta said second baseman Anderson Hernandez will not bat first in the order, so the Nationals most likely will have to make a trade to fill the leadoff role. Outfielder Juan Pierre could be available if the Dodgers don't re-sign Manny Ramirez.

Acta surprised many when he said the Nationals need to get a proven catcher to push Jesus Flores, who finished second on the team in RBIs with 59. Backup Wil Nieves did a good job last year, but it appears the team wants someone who has experience as an everyday player.

"We are very happy with the way he played at both ends," Acta said about Flores. "Yeah, we would like to have a guy that can push him. He is at an early age that we don't want him to 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.

"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."

Will Acta get a better team than last year? He saw his team get decimated by injuries and lose 102 games. He's in the final year of his three-year contract, but doesn't feel as if he's on the proverbial hot seat.

"I feel grateful that with the economy the way it is right now, I have a job for 2009," Acta said. "I think it would be very selfish of me to be worrying about 2010 and years to come. I was hired three years ago to do a job, and they hired me, so obviously it's on management's 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 Washington, rookie ball or somewhere in the big leagues."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.