The first domino has fallen following a cataclysmic 2011 season in Twins Territory, as General Manager Bill Smith was dismissed from the position on Monday. Philosophical differences were cited for the split, but according to numerous Twin Cities-area media including Phil Mackey, there was a growing sentiment that Smith was not the proper executive to right the ship following arguably the worst season in the Twins’ 50-plus year history.
In Smith’s stead on an interim-basis is his predecessor, Terry Ryan. There are rumblings that either Wayne Krivsky or Mike Radcliff – whom the Twins denied the Orioles permission to interview for their GM opening – may be the GM in waiting, but Jon Morosi of Fox Sports suggests that Ryan may have the job as long as he wants it. Ryan was the architect of a number of division champions on a much tighter budget, but this bunch provides a whole different challenge, including two oft-injured superstars chewing up nearly 40 percent of his projected (read: slashed) budget.
Now, hindsight is certainly 20/20, but today I’d like to have a look at some of the personnel failures that plagued Smith during his tenure. Before doing so, it’s certainly worth noting that he made some great second-half deals, such as dealing fungible minor league talent for Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, Carl Pavano, and Orlando Cabrera down the stretch to propel previous Twins clubs to AL Central titles.
Those moves weren’t nearly enough to save his job, however, as Parker Hageman of Over the Baggy and Star Tribune’s TwinsCentric blog notes. According to Hageman, Smith’s dealings saved the club nearly $8 million, but at a cost of 10.3 WAR. Taking a standard approach of $5 million per win, it isn’t difficult to see where Smith’s pratfalls came into play.
Let’s take a look at the most recent deals that cemented Smith’s demise, so to speak:
For all the second-half wizardry, one such deal looms large on Smith’s list of boners. “Capps for Ramos” is a phrase that will evoke some of the most heinous reactions seen in the otherwise friendly area known as Twins Territory. This was one of the rare deals that left even the average fan scratching its head, even if their logic wasn’t necessarily astute. See, the hype around Ramos at that time reached a fevered pitch after his Jimmie Foxx-esque debut. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots for the average Joe; an oft-injured catcher ought to have a good backup. Still, if Twins fans were overrating Ramos, it appears Smith and the Twins brass underrated him just as much, and promptly dealt him to the nation’s capital for closer Matt Capps.
Oddly, Smith already had a taller, tatted version of Capps in Rauch already in tow, not to mention Capps’ skill set isn’t that of a shutdown closer, and that he was just a half-season removed from being non-tendered by the Pirates. Pesky details aside, Ramos hasn’t exactly lit the Pentagon ablaze offensively in his season-and-a-half out east, but a 3.1 WAR catcher doesn’t grow on money trees, either. Truth is, if Smith knew the club couldn’t continue to turn to Rauch in saves situations – a well-beaten talking point in Twin Cities media circles at the time – why did he turn to an almost identical pitcher, and beyond that send premium talent? This may have been the beginning of the end for Smith, even though Capps fared well down the stretch.
In my mind, the deal that cemented Smith’s demise was the deal to ship J.J. Hardy to Baltimore for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobsen. Hardy, acquired the previous offseason for Carlos Gomez, was headed toward a sizeable arbitration payday, something Smith and company weren’t inclined to give, so they essentially moved him for pennies on the dollar. One thing that never really clicked in my mind regarding the Hardy situation was why the team dealt Gomez, who for all his faults is and would be an incredibly valuable player to have (especially given the current outfield woes facing the Twins), for a shortstop who was slated to get expensive rather quickly? Why deal for a player who, if he were to play well, would be slated to receive a pay raise if your club is unwilling/unable to meet those demands?
But I digress. The rest is history, as Hardy smacked 30 home runs with an .801 OPS, .343 wOBA, and a scintillating 4.8 WAR, while Tsuyoshi Nishioka, well, didn’t.
There have been countless other dubious moves that further fueled Smith’s building of a cellar dweller. To me, the re-signing of Pavano is near the top of the list. No, from a wins-to-dollars standpoint, bringing Pavano back into the fold isn’t indefensible. However, Smith found himself in a chicken-and-egg scenario, spending money on the pitcher and pinching pennies on the defense that made him who he was, when at least in my view, vice versa would have been the better idea.
There were also a pair of trades in the past that can finally be evaluated on the whole that certainly don’t bolster Smith’s case. The Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza deal didn’t end particularly well, considering both Garza and Jason Bartlett starred for the Rays before moving on to new ventures. The same can be said for the Johan Santana trade, as the lone remaining remnant after all is extrapolated out (Kevin Mulvey -> Rauch, Gomez -> Hardy, etc.) is Deolis Guerra, a largely-failed prospect who may have a future as a middle reliever. Say what you will about Santana’s time in Queens, but the Smith clearly missed the boat in dealing his ace and not receiving a single premium talent in return. At the very least, he could have used Santana for a season and pocketed a pair of draft picks.
Regardless of the timing of the decision, it had become quite clear to everyone that a shake-up was needed at One Twins Way. The only question was whether or not it would occur sooner rather than later. Despite initial indications, this Smith move indicates a seismic shift in which direction the Twins are taking. However, it’s the view of this writer that unless the team adds a more progressive statistical department, history is bound to repeat itself. As for Smith, he’s been offered a position within the Twins front office, but will take his time to decide if he’s going to accept. “I’m going to step back for a little bit here. In 30 years, I haven’t taken many vacations…I’m probably due for some of that,” Smith noted in an interview on ESPN1500 with Mackey and Joe Soucheray. “(I’ll) see if I can sleep better, eat better, get a little exercise, and kind of regroup. Then I’ll make decisions as we go forward.”