Tuesday, November 08, 2011

No Matter Their Reasons, Twins Got This One Right

As we get wound up for the hot stove season in baseball*, the Minnesota Twins made their first significant move of the offseason Monday.

(* - Yes, I know free agency has started, but nothing of note generally happens until after the winter meetings.)

The Twins' move doesn't involve a player. Instead, the team has gone to its past to try to save its future.

General manager Bill Smith was fired Monday, with the team citing the always-mysterious "philosophical differences" in making the announcement. Former general manager Terry Ryan -- who served in that capacity from 1994-2007 -- is taking over on an interim basis.

"Philosophical differences" doesn't tell us much. Thankfully, 1500 ESPN's Phil Mackey did some digging on the matter.

Smith was fired, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking, because he simply had lost the confidence of the people around and underneath him within the organization.

... The firing, however, had nothing to do with a drop in payroll, sources said -- Smith was told, with no qualms, that the payroll would dip from $115 million to approximately $100 million. Turning a 99-loss team into a contender with a limited free-agent budget is a tall task, as the Twins are already tied up for about $80 million, but Smith did not push back in that regard.

The firing also had nothing to do with the addition of former Cincinnati Reds' GM Wayne Krivsky as a pro scout and adviser -- Smith actually facilitated that move perhaps more aggressively than anyone in the organization, one source said.

There was just a growing sense within the organization that Smith was not the right man to turn things around going forward -- a notion his successor Terry Ryan laments, because he was the one who recommended Smith to be his own successor in the first place.

Unquestionably, this is a sensitive issue for everyone involved, especially considering that Smith replaced Ryan, and now we're seeing the script flipped for the world to see.

The Twins had no choice here, especially if Mackey's report rings true (no reason to think it doesn't). The organization hasn't been moving forward lately. It's been moving the other direction. Minnesota hasn't drafted terribly well, and the players they have drafted haven't been making the kind of impact that they should.

I'm not saying the Twins can't grow prospects. Certainly, guys like Denard Span, Ben Revere, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau have done a lot of good things. But the Twins don't have the rotation ace they need, the bullpen they should have, and they haven't developed an impact position player since Kubel. He's been around long enough to be eligible for free agency, so that should tell you something.

The Twins denied permission to the Orioles to speak with scouting director Mike Radcliff about their front-office overhaul last week. It makes you think that Radcliff might be in play for the "permanent" job in Minnesota.

But is that the right way to go? It's not like the Twins are overwhelmed with prospects, and that's on the scouting guy, at least in part. Perhaps there were issues here with Smith (speculation) trying to control too much, and then this all makes more sense.

Hats off to the Twins, who didn't take any shots at Smith or reveal whatever the issue was with him. It's something more specific than "philosophical differences," but there's no point in tearing the man down more than firing him already did.

No matter the motivation, Twins brass got it right. Ryan is a good baseball man, and a loyal Twins employee. He thinks this can be fixed quickly, and we can only hope he's right. It went south in a hurry, and hopefully it can go north just as fast.

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