Mackey: Twins' GM switch stemmed from confidence lost in Bill Smith
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MINNEAPOLIS -- During a 22-minute press conference Monday at Target Field, Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter both used the phrase "philosophical differences" to explain the decision to remove Bill Smith from his post as general manager, without going into any further detail.
Pohlad even assured the assembled media that "there is no smoking gun" incident that led to the firing.
While it's true that there were some differences of opinion on how to proceed with fixing a 99-loss team -- as there likely would be in any organization coming off such a disastrous season -- the phrase "philosophical differences" is more of a company line than anything else.
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.
And once a leader loses the faith of the people he leads, it's a bridge that's difficult to repair.
The timing of the move is a bit odd, considering the Twins gathered for their annual organizational meetings in mid-October in order to prepare for free agency, which opened up a week ago.
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.
"I feel like I let him down," Ryan said. "He had three very good years and one struggle last year. It's sensitive, I know that. I've talked to Bill a lot in the last couple days. I wanted to make sure he was OK. He meant a lot to me. He provided a lot of the success we had here for the better part of the 2000's."
People in the organization never really wanted Ryan to step down in the first place. Ryan, who took over as GM in 1994, earned infinite amounts of respect internally when he turned a team that was nearly contracted in 2000 into a perennial winner from 2001 to 2006 before stepping down in 2007.
Smith was left with the task of trading Johan Santana during his first offseason, and since then he has always taken more heat publicly for poor personnel moves than he deserved. Smith was never the only cook in the kitchen. Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff, assistant GM Rob Antony and Ryan all carried significant weight in that front office during Smith's regime, and Smith would listen to those men -- and other trusted bodies -- when it came to making decisions.
But Smith wasn't revered internally in the same way as Ryan -- a long-time respected baseball talent evaluator. Ryan's decisions, even the ones that didn't work out, came with a strong self-assuredness.
Smith -- who stems from an administration background -- projected confidence as well, but there always appeared to be a validation-seeking nature about his baseball decisions, which probably stems from his lack of a background in baseball personnel evaluation.
The body of work over the last 18 months was not good -- and Smith's solid moves in 2009 and 2010 that helped build back-to-back playoff teams were not enough to buy him more time.
That said, the door is still open for Smith to return in some capacity to the organization he's been a part of for 26 years. For now, Smith will take a few weeks off to evaluate his future.
"I hope that he comes back," Ryan said. "We can find plenty for him to do, I can tell you that."
Ryan has plenty to do himself, and he understands that significant changes are still necessary in several areas.
The Twins are unlikely to make a big splash in free agency due to payroll restrictions, but payroll never stopped Ryan from cultivating winners last decade. His division titles in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 were accomplished with payrolls of $40 million, $55 million, $53 million and $63 million respectively.
But those teams weren't handcuffed by massive guaranteed contracts owed to giant question marks. Nor were they plagued with massive flaws in all three phases of the game.
Is it even realistic to fix it all this offseason?
"I'm going to try," Ryan said. "I'm going to try."