Three men have fulfilled the general manager's duties for the Minnesota Twins since 1984: Andy MacPhail, Terry Ryan and Bill Smith. So Monday's dismissal of Smith, just four years into his tenure at the top, was a shocking stray from the stability that has been the hallmark of the organization. But the Twins took on a new personality when they moved into Target Field last year, and sometimes stability for stability's sake is an unaffordable luxury when the payroll trends north of $100 million and the goal is to win, and win now.
The Twins didn't win much at all this season, and now Smith is biting the bullet for 99 losses' worth of Minnesota misery. That Ryan, one of the sharpest baseball minds on the planet, was still on-hand and available to them in the "interim" -- and we'll see just how interim that really is -- no doubt influenced the decision. But the exact timing of the decision, coming as it did when the offseason business has already kicked off, was obviously odd. Hey, puzzling as the timing might be, it's clearly the right move for an organization that got off track in Smith's tenure. Minnesota made two postseason appearances in his four years at the helm, but the club regressed so thoroughly and cataclysmically in 2011 that a change in philosophy was in order. And if the Twins, despite giving Smith a vote of confidence just a month ago, didn't feel he was the man to meet those morphing philosophical demands, they were right to act aggressively, no matter the exact juncture. Smith took this team over at an interesting, even daunting, juncture, as free agency was looming for Johan Santana and the price tags were rising drastically for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. With Santana, the onus was on Smith to get an adequate haul for one of the game's greatest arms. It was a tall order. And while the Mets now have an albatross on their hands in the form of the Santana contract, it's nonetheless clear they got the better end of the bargain. Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra were the four players acquired for Santana. Gomez, Humber and Mulvey are all out of the organization, while Guerra posted a 6.36 ERA in the Minors this year. Gomez was dealt away for J.J. Hardy, who was then dealt to the Orioles a year later for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson, neither of whom amounted to much this year. And the oft-injured Hardy was replaced by Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a bust on the days he wasn't hurt. Sometimes it can take five, six, seven years to fully evaluate such a blockbuster trade as the Santana deal, but I don't think we need to be allotted any more time than we have already. In Mauer and Morneau, Smith had dual franchise faces in their arbitration years. And while it's easy to rip the end results in hindsight, few, if any, Twins fans would have complained at the end of '07 if you had told them Smith would find a way to lock both in for the long, long haul. The results, though, have unquestionably been a disaster. Morneau's concussion issues have made him a shell of his former self, and Mauer's leg issues have severely impacted his ability to catch on a consistent basis. His bat isn't nearly as valuable at first base as it is behind the plate, and he's only one year into his eight-year extension. The payroll has risen drastically, but the M&M Boys are eating up more than their fair share of it. Smith, of course, isn't responsible for the health woes of his two top talents, but he's far from the first GM to take the axe for swaps and signings gone awry. He's also taking the fall for the fact that the Twins, under his watch, no longer had a stockpiled farm system ready to lend a hand when the Major League roster was besieged by injuries this year. When Smith took over for Ryan at the end of '07, he made it clear his baseball background was not on the scouting side. He was a French major with administrative savvy and perhaps a certain "je ne sais quoi" that helped him work his way up the ladder. He's a smart man who deserves another opportunity on the game's business side, and perhaps he'll remain with Minnesota in some capacity. But it's become clear that, in this particular position, the Twins are better off resetting their clocks to the Ryan era. Ryan, of course, has remained a prominent voice behind the curtains all along, so he's as in tune with this mess as anybody. He's presented with a huge challenge. But while the payroll proportions are new territory for the man who built a Metrodome dynamo on a meager budget, the basic tenets of acceptable acquisitions that guided him in the Chuck Knoblauch, Eric Milton and A.J. Pierzynski moves, among others, must guide him now. Another part of Ryan's new responsibility is "to identify future leadership candidates," according to the Twins. That will undoubtedly include Wayne Krivsky, Ryan's former right-hand man who is set to return to the organization as a scout and assistant to the GM. "I'm going to take this job head on," Ryan told reporters. "I'm not going to do it part-time. Being a general manager is a 365-days-out-of-the-year job. That's the way I'm going to go at it." Ryan might just decide the "future leadership candidate" he's looking for is staring back at him in the mirror. How's that for stability?
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.