Blog Entry

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Posted on: November 7, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 6:43 pm

Be careful what you wish for: With big-market finances come big-market expectations, and the Twins plummeting to a 99-loss season in 2010 despite a club-record $113 million payroll caused a big-time reaction Monday.

They fired general manager Bill Smith and went back to the future, naming Terry Ryan as interim GM.

Forget the Theo Epstein circus, the Tony La Russa resignation and the Orioles hiring Dan Duquette. This is the most shocking news of the off-season, simply because the Twins do not DO things like this.

Stability is their game. Since 1984, the Twins have employed only three men as GM: Andy MacPhail, Ryan and Smith.

For now, that will remain unchanged.

"I don't know if it will be for one year or for 10 years," Ryan said when asked to gauge the length of his interim tag. "We'll see how it goes. Direction, success, workload, all those things. ...

"This is going to be a challenge. I'm up to the challenge. I appreciate the opportunity."

The Twins refused to list reasons for dumping Smith. Owner Jim Pohlad had said at season's end that Smith would return, but he also said he wanted to see a plan for how the team could bounce back

Pohlad's utterings of "philosophical differences" and how this was about "scope and approach" pretty much said it all: Whatever plan Smith presented fell short in the Twins' eyes.

Hard to say if it involved spending even more money, but Ryan said that the 2012 payroll "is going to be south of where it was." He estimated that it would be somewhere around $100 million.

"Wherever it is, it's going to be a heck of a lot more than whatever I worked with," Ryan said in one of the few lighthearted moments of the news conference.

He sure has that right. Neither MacPhail nor Ryan never had a payroll higher than that of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- as the 2011 Twins did -- and they never had a brand new outdoor ballpark filled with exuberant fans night after night.

Smith did. And he signed Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal, and he had Justin Morneau on a six-year, $80 million deal, and neither of them could stay in the lineup last summer. Morneau, with his concussion issues, may never come close to being the same player he once was.

The Twins have issues, serious issues, and the fact that they've decided Smith no longer is the man to solve them ranks incredibly high on the seismic scale.

"We struggled on the mound, we didn't pick the ball up and we didn't score enough runs," said Ryan, who remains revered throughout the organization, from top to bottom. "We need to firm up a lot of areas."

Pure baseball always was going to be Smith's biggest challenge once the Twins promoted him to replace Ryan in September, 2007. A rules and contracts specialist who cut his baseball teeth from the ground up in Appleton, Wisc., in the White Sox organization, Smith was going to need a solid baseball man to team with, and the Twins made sure he had that when they promoted Mike Radcliff to vice-president of player personnel when Smith became GM.

Two of Smith's biggest trades backfired badly, and each factored into the 99-loss season as much as anything:

-- He sent two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to the Mets in 2008 for a package of four players, none of whom has made an impact with the Twins. Outfielder Carlos Gomez came the closest, but he was spun off to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who now is with Baltimore. The other three players were pitcher Phil Humber and minor league pitchers Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

-- He sent big-time catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington two summers ago for closer Matt Capps in a go-for-it-now move with the Twins en route to 94 wins and the AL Central title in their first season in Target Field in 2010. But now, with Mauer looking like an old 28 and playing in only 82 games in 2011, the Ramos trade looks like a disaster.

The signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka last winter for three years at $9.25 million also has the makings of a bust.

"If you're going to point to those, you should point at Orlando Cabrera [whom Smith acquired in 2009], Brian Fuentes [2010] and some others who worked out," Twins president Dave St. Peter said of two Smith acquisitions who helped the Twins make the playoffs in subsequent seasons.

There are more serious personnel questions heading toward 2012 than the Twins have faced in several years -- especially given the depths to which they sunk. They've declined the option on closer Joe Nathan's contract. Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and Capps all are free agents. Jim Thome already has signed with the Phillies.

And regarding the pitching staff, only Baltimore (4.89) compiled a higher ERA than Minnesota's (4.58) in 2011.

Ryan, the Twins' GM from 1994-2007, acknowledged that he's fielded inquiries from other clubs during his time out of the chair. Cincinnati, who hired Wayne Krivsky from the Twins, was one. But he loves the Twins, living in Minnesota and was enjoying the freedom working as a special assistant to Smith gave him.

"The situation dictated we were going to make a move," he said Monday. "If he had won 94 games, I wouldn't be sitting here. I didn't want Bill Smith's job. He knows it."

That said, Ryan said that he is going to "take this job head on. It's a 365-days-a-year job. We've got some work to do here."

The Twins are going to need both his baseball acumen and his familiarity. Because this is unheard of. They just don't fire people

At least, they didn't.

"Our family values loyalty, commitment and talent," Pohlad said. "Bill Smith had all three. ...

"We do this with a heavy heart."

"This is a sensitive day," Ryan said.

No question. But the one thing the Twins have going for them through this stunning and uncharted territory is, they've got a pretty good track record of getting things right.


Since: Jan 11, 2008
Posted on: November 8, 2011 10:39 am

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

I was really pessimistic when Smith took over for Ryan, so I'm very happy that Ryan is back. But while many of Smith's moves didn't work, and I disagree with some, others look worse in hind sight than at the time. Hardy is one example. I wasn't at all sad to see him leave. I thought his acquisition by the Twins turned out to be a bust. Santana - you could see his time as a Twin was up, although hanging our hopes on Liriano emerging as the ace, after his surgery, was a bad move. I wasn't so upset about moving Young, either, although I agree that it shouldn't have been to a division rival. Moving Garza was probably my biggest disappointment. And one more thing - see what happens when you get rid of the beloved, tooth-pick batted Punto?!?!?!?! He gets a ring for the Cards and 99 losses for the Twins! The guy's a good luck charm! What were you thinking, Smith?

Since: Jun 29, 2009
Posted on: November 8, 2011 12:04 am

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

He was a alright GM but he wasn't a TWINS GM.  The moves he made were not moves twins fans are used to seeing.  Trading Hardy and Young were just bad for the long term outlook of this team.  We did not recieve any type of value for players that had significant value.  I'm glad he's out because hopefully I like other twins fans can return to agreeing with twins offseason moves. 

Since: Mar 19, 2008
Posted on: November 7, 2011 11:32 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Ryan has his work REALLY cut out for him and it's not going to be a quick fix.  With the contracts Mauer and Morneau have, coupled with Pavano, Nishioka and Span, Ryan is stuck with a payroll budget of maybe less than 50 million, if he adhere's to the 100 million he was quoted as saying.  NOT a pretty picture!!!

Since: Apr 4, 2011
Posted on: November 7, 2011 11:03 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

bill smith was never had a good baseball mind or was a good baseball man....

Since: Jan 3, 2010
Posted on: November 7, 2011 9:40 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Agreed, it was a shock.  When a team loses 99 games, the GM or manager usually gets fired.  But the Twins announced Smith would be back next year, so this good news was an unexpected surprise.  Not only did the team lose 99 games, the team was one game shy of becoming only the 2nd MLB team in history to lose 100 games AND have a team salary of over $100M.

Last offseason I gave the Twins an F grade.  This move gives the team a minimum of a D-.  Bill Smith is a good baseball man, but is simply just not GM material.  After trading a great catcher prospect for Capps mideason, Smith traded away the only other palatable backup catcher for nothing in the offseason even after Mauer had surgery.  Smith avoided bringing back quality bullpen arms in Crain, Guerrier, Rauch and Fuentes due to the high price tag only to offer an ARBITRATION deal to Capps worth over $7M.  This offer was made to Capps after the team low balled Liriano's arbitration offer of less than half that amount (part of Liriano's miserable season may have been due to lack of motiviation).

Taking a gamble on TNish was ironically not part of the reason an F was given, but the first year of that deal proved to be awful.  The Twins have a lot of holes to fill and Ryan has a proven record (while using much less resources).  Hopefully Ryan will see Cuddyer (although a great human being) is way too expensive and offers the Twins two draft picks if he signs elsewhere (i.e. Philly).  The Twins can use those savings to sign a couple of experienced and quality relievers as well as catching help. 

I have already mentioned Doumit would be a great fit for the Twins as he has pop in his bat and can play catcher, outfield and firstbase.  There are a plethora of good relievers out there including MacDougal and Ayala.  Moving Mauer to left field is the obvious other move that will help the lineup as his average was over 100 points higher when he started elsewhere other than catcher.

Good luck Twins, at least this offseason grade can be no lower than a D-.

Since: Sep 14, 2006
Posted on: November 7, 2011 9:16 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

JJ HARDY???? ar eyou kidding me? the guy  has never been healthy prior to the twins. Hes always had potential. The first year we have him hes always hurt AGAIN! They were able to trade him for something and he finally had a good year, not a great year on a CRAPPY team too. That same thing happened with David (big head steroids) Ortiz! Give me a break about Hardy. Now the delmon young trade was the one I would loook back at. Lazy, slow, fat for a 23-24 year old #1 pick was rediculous. Twins might be in a rut for a while, no prospects coming up really either. Could be a rough one!

Since: Aug 2, 2011
Posted on: November 7, 2011 8:45 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Sometimes a parting of ways, even as big a surprise this is, may be best for both parties.

Smith had probably got too comfortable and although 2011 didn't go to plan the injuries to their key players didn't help but the trasdes described above that were sanctioned may never have worked out, and unfortunately the way these trades have panned out has been to the Twins detriment.

They will come back stronger than ever in 2012, and maybe with a fresh GM, the perspective and atmosphere will change the mood and prove to be a positive masterstroke

Since: Aug 11, 2008
Posted on: November 7, 2011 7:07 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

As a Twins fan the name J.J. Hardy makes me cringe. It was ridiculous to let him walk. The Orioles won there. Bill Smith must be having nightmares about some decisions he made but, to me, that was the biggest mistake of all and this season proved it. The Baltimore Orioles were for many years the class of the American League and I hoe they can be again. A Twins-Orioles playoff needs to happen again. I have 40 pus years of revenge built up in me from those sweeps of '69 and '70. Laughing Let's hope we see this post season match up again soon.

Since: Aug 11, 2008
Posted on: November 7, 2011 7:02 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Terry Ryan also mentioned that payroll is not the most important factor in fielding a good team. No GM, save for maybe Andrew Freidman, has made that more clear. Basically only the Yankees and Red Sox have proven they can make big money contracts work for them. Even those teams have great farm systems and plenty of home grown talent to mix in with the big contracts. The trade not mentioned here was the Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young and a couple other duds. DY had an upside but what could the Twins have done this year with Bartlett in the infield and Garza in the rotation? More can be and will be said but this article says it well. The Twins just DO NOT do things like this so there was obviously something not right about the situation as a whole. I think the timing of the rehire of Wayne Krivsky now shows the leanings of the organization. Ryan-Krivsky was a fantastic pair of baseball execs in the past and will be again. Watch the Twins turn it around quickly.

Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: November 7, 2011 6:59 pm

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Was Bill Smith a failure as GM of the Twins?  Absolutely.  (And this is coming from a fan of the Orioles -- I know failure when I see it!)

Smith's trades were horrible in almost every aspect.  I am of the belief you never trade within your division unless you're fleecing the other team.  Delmon Young for a pair of minor leaguers with minimal upside at best was just plain stupid.  Young still hasn't hit the magical age of 27 for a hitter and he's still a full season away from free agency.  I can't believe there weren't any better offers on the table for Young from any other team.  Hell--if Smith wanted garbage to take Young off his hands, I'm sure my Orioles had a few pieces of junk to spare!  You can also kill Smith for the Young deal because he gave away the only major piece of the Matt Garza deal when Young left town.  When you look back now, all the Twins have to show for Garza is Jason Pridie and a couple of low-ceiling minor leaguers--that's not good.  (Brendan Harris was traded in the J.J. Hardy deal.)

Bash Smith for the Johan Santana deal where he gave away a 2-time Cy Young Award winner (4 times in the top 5 in 6 seasons as a starter.  Granted, ownership didn't help by tightening the purse strings at every turn, but you've got to get more in trade than he did -- a 4th OF in Carlos Gomez who was traded after 2 seasons for J.J. Hardy who was sent away with Harris for Jim Hoey and a minor leaguer, Philip Humber who was a poor minor league pitcher for 2 seasons before he was sent packing, Kevin Mulvey who was a decent AAA starter for 2 seasons and pitched a grand total of 1 1/3 innings for the big club (was flipped for Jon Rauch who left via free agency 1 year later), and Deolis Guerra who hasn't made it past AAA in 4 seasons for Minnesota.  Santana gone, nothing left to show for it.

When you boil it all down, Bill Smith traded away Matt Garza, Delmon Young, Johan Santana, and J.J. Hardy and all that remains in the Twins organization is Jason Pridie, Jim Hoey, Deolis Guerra, and a handful of low-ceiling minor leaguers.  That's ugly.  Thanks for J.J. Hardy, Bill!

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