Over the past few years, it’s been clear that Bill Smith just wasn’t quite right for being a major league general manager. When the Twins were winning, his misfires on trades and free agent contracts didn’t look quite as bad. However, a 99 loss team certainly magnified his poor decisions and non-decisions.
I’m not going to go over his trade and free agent history in-depth, that’s something that most of us should already know. All I’ll say about that is that we should remember that he did have some good moments when it came to acquiring players from outside the organization. Jon Rauch, Orlando Cabrera, Carl Pavano, J.J. Hardy, and Brian Fuentes were all good trades. Signing Jim Thome in two consecutive years was big.
However, it was the biggest trades that were also his worst. Additionally, it was the ignorance of building depth within the organization that really sunk the team this past season. Thome was originally signed to bolster the bench, but it became clear that he could still be a major league DH, and this turned guys like Matt Tolbert into the first players off the bench in key spots of the game. Injuries certainly hurt the team last year, but the inability to replace Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with solid backups also led to their demise.
This offseason also started with a sputter when the team chose to claim Jeff Gray and Matt Maloney off of waivers. Both are players that may come in handy, but in no way were needed to be handed 40-man roster spots off the bat (pardon the pun). It’s probably extreme to think that these two players were the final straw for the Twins, but it is a little coincidental.
I must say that Terry Ryan being Smith’s successor was a big surprise. I was among the many that felt that someone else would be named Smith’s replacement, but overall I’m pleased with Ryan returning to the GM’s chair. He did an excellent job building the organization up until the mid-2000s, and I have faith that he can do the same again. While I might be intrigued by the possibility of someone outside the organization stepping in as the new full-time GM, the Twins have never been interested in significant turnover. They’re proving this right now by offering Bill Smith another job within the front office, and naming a former Twins general manager that had still been in the front office as the new GM (I wonder if we can now call him Grover Cleveland?).
I feel that some people are worried with Ryan already talking about cutting payroll down to $100 million (especially with so much money tied up with Mauer and Morneau), but if anyone can do it, it would be Ryan. After all, the Twins of the ’90s and 2000s were awfully cheap, weren’t they? Ryan knows how to build a team with a lack of funds, and he’ll have to do it once again.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what direction Ryan wants to take with the team. The Twins appear to be better suited for a rebuilding rather than contending mode (my personal opinion, not necessarily fact), and we’ll have to see how Ryan feels about this. Smith and Co. mistakenly thought last year’s team was a contender, and unless the team is significantly upgraded, they’ll likely fail to contend in 2012.
Terry Ryan, good luck.