HOUSTON -- Bob Melvin sees the Houston Astros being in better shape than the Diamondbacks were when he became their manager in November 2004.
Melvin met with the Astros about their managerial job on Friday, the fifth of 10 candidates that the team is scheduled to interview. Former Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta met with the Astros in the afternoon.
The Astros fired Cecil Cooper on Sept. 21 and finished 74-88, their second losing record in three years. The 47-year-old Melvin took over the Diamondbacks after a 51-111 season and said that team required more extensive rebuilding than Houston does now.
"We actually had to transition away from some of the veteran guys in Arizona and go to a younger group," Melvin said. "In a situation like this, where you have some veterans and some really good players, you're probably a little farther along."
The Astros' payroll ranked among the top 10 in the majors last season, but Melvin said veterans like Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt form a solid foundation. Houston will likely turn to younger players to fill key spots next season and Melvin said his job would be to strike the right balance.
"Nowadays, that's the best mix, to have a younger group of guys that brings you that energy and so forth, with a mix of veteran guys that've been through the wars before," he said. "If you can get the two groups to act as one, you have the best of both worlds."
Arizona improved by 26 victories in 2005 and two years later, Melvin guided a team with one of the smallest payrolls in the majors to a division title and earned NL manager of the year honors.
The Diamondbacks led the NL West for most of 2008, then hit a crippling slump in late August and lost the division to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Melvin was fired in May after the Diamondbacks started 12-17.
"Once you get let go, there's a catch-22 with that," he said. "You get let go, but now you have some experience."
Before he became a manager, Melvin worked for two seasons as a bench coach for Phil Garner, who will interview with the Astros on Saturday, two years after the team fired him.
The two remain close friends and Garner was driving Melvin to the airport on Friday afternoon.
"I owe a lot of my career to him," Melvin said. "We have a long history together."
The 40-year-old Acta is the youngest of the 10 candidates for the Houston job. He was fired by the Nationals in July after a 21-61 start and went 158-252 in over two-plus seasons in his first major league managing post.
"I learned that rebuilding is tough," Acta said. "It's cruel and can be grueling. But those are the types of jobs that go to people like me. Obviously, you're not going to take one of those big-time managers to go do one of those jobs."
Acta has deep ties to the Astros. They drafted him at age 17 and he played in their minor league system from 1986-91. He managed minor league affiliates of the Astros from 1993-2000, then became a coach with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs -- then a Houston affiliate -- in 2001.
He said the opportunity to manage the Astros would be "too good to be true." He feels that he already owes the franchise for launching his career -- and introducing him to his wife, whom he met while playing in the minors.
"It will give everybody who shows up to watch a ballgame a hope to manage this club," he said. "I grew up being an Astros fan and then I ended up being signed by them and working for them for 16 years in the minor leagues. I guess everybody who is a fan of the Astros would have a shot if I'm getting one."
Acta became Montreal's third-base coach under Frank Robinson in 2002. The Expos moved to Washington in 2004 and Acta succeeded Robinson as the Nationals' manager in November 2006.
Acta also met with the Cleveland Indians this week about their managing vacancy. He said the Indians will tell him by the end of the weekend if he is one of three finalists to replace the fired Eric Wedge.
"It's like playing the lotto," Acta said. "The more tickets you play, the more chances you have to win."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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