Ryan, Smith both all in to right Twins' ship
Minnesota shook up front office after down season in '11
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's a unique situation, but the Twins are a very unique organization.Terry Ryan is beginning his first spring as general manager after four years out of that chair. Bill Smith, the guy he replaced, remains in the organization. Smith didn't leave the job by his own volition. He was dismissed this past Nov. 7 after a stunning 99-loss season and given the chance to come back; he did, and is now the assistant to the president and general manager. On Tuesday, Ryan was in his office with a sweeping view of the vast green pastures of Hammond Stadium. Smith had a big smile on his face. As part of his duties he's overseeing expected renovations of the 22-year-old Spring Training facility. "I'm all in," said Smith.
Yes he is, and so is Ryan, who stepped down after the 2007 season, ending a 13-year run in that job. Ryan left because he thought it was time to take a deep breath. At 58 years old, he now believes he is seeing things in a different light."I was the GM and personnel guy and scouting director here for too many years," he said. "It's a long shelf life for anybody in one organization." Perhaps in most organizations, but not the Twins. Since the World Series-winning days of 1987 and '91, the GM job has been passed from Andy MacPhail to Ryan to Smith and back to Ryan. There have only been five GMs in the history of the club since it moved west from Washington in 1961. In the dugout for the past 25 years has been Tom Kelly or Ron Gardenhire. Win or lose, that's some kind of stability. It took two months after the end of the regular season for Twins owner and chief executive Jim Pohlad to make the decision to change general managers. "We're not a knee-jerk organization," said Gardenhire, who replaced Kelly as manager after the 2001 season. "That's why when the season ended nothing happened. There was a thought process. They had to think about things. When I started getting phone calls that they were making that move I was as shocked as anybody. I honestly did not expect it. Billy is a good friend. We were in this together. We both had a rough year. A very rough year." There were injuries up and down the lineup. Joe Mauer missed half a season. Justin Morneau played in only 69 games in the wake of a severe concussion. Denard Span played in only 70 games for the same reason. Even now, after knee, foot, wrist and neck surgeries, there's a question about Morneau's availability. Still, Smith was removed from the job because of what Ryan said was a "disagreement about a philosophical approach" between the former GM and the owners. The fact that the team had made the playoffs twice and missed the postseason after losing a one-game tiebreaker for the American League Central title in 2008 during the first three seasons of Smith's tenure made no difference. The player payroll hovered around $110 million in the second year of Target Field last season, about twice what it once was in the Metrodome, Ryan said. That was once unheard of for the Twins. Smith declined to be specific about the philosophical differences when asked about them on Tuesday. "Mr. Pohlad had the right to make a change; in fact, he had an obligation to do it if he thought it was best for the organization," Smith said. "Terry is a good friend of mine. He's a two-time executive of the year. I hope he gets it a third time." It's not as if Ryan has been out of work. He's been scouting players for the Twins in the four years since he resigned as GM. The way the latest change came about was also pretty stunning to him. One week he was at the instructional league, the next he was at the Arizona Fall League and the one after that he was back as general manager. "It's not like I wasn't familiar with what had gone on," Ryan said. "They asked me to come back. I accepted their invitation and here I am. I certainly wasn't anticipating this, I can tell you that." Ryan now oversees a club that is in the midst of numerous changes. Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel left as free agents. As Spring Training begins, the lineup looks set depending on the health of Mauer, Span and Morneau. In a division the Tigers won last year by 15 games, the Twins are pretty much an afterthought now that Detroit has added Prince Fielder to its lineup. Last year, the Twins were 28th in Major League Baseball with a .980 fielding percentage and third with the most errors at 119. Gardenhire knows that has to change if they are to have any chance. "We're trying to win no matter what anybody else thinks," he said. "We can if we catch the ball." To that end, Jamey Carroll is the new shortstop and Alexi Casilla will get a good shot at second base. Ryan signed Carroll to a two-year, $6.75 million contract as a free agent about a week after he replaced Smith as GM. Money is not an issue, Ryan said, adding that the payroll will remain in the $100 million range. It's just an oddity that when the money was there the Twins had their worst season since a 102-loss campaign in 1982. "It's ironic, isn't it?" Ryan said. "I'm hoping last year was an aberration." That aberration was the reason for the job change, and this time Ryan has no idea how long he will be in that chair.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.