This came as a major shock to me. It's well documented that I've been pretty unimpressed with the job Ryan has done for the past couple years, but there was no way I expected him to be vacating the GM spot anytime soon. My first instinct when I heard the announcement -- as with any announcement of an executive resigning unexpectedly -- was to wonder whether perhaps Ryan was forced out. Had he been pressing owner Carl Pohlad to hard for money? Was the organization disappointed with his poor showing in 2007?
After studying a wide range of accounts and listening to Ryan speak, I'm convinced that he was tired of the stress and workload associated with the position. I think former Star Tribune columnist and current KFAN radio personality Dan Barreiro put it best on his blog:
Listening to Ryan during his news conference on Thursday afternoon, this is what came through loud and clear: He just didn't want to work this hard anymore. Always more a ball guy than an administrative guy, he had been beaten down by the administrative side of the job, to the point where he noted his personality was changing for the worse. The job was eating him up. I take him at his word on that part of it.Ryan's new role will primarily involve scouting, which a Star Tribune account describes as Ryan's "first love." I also think it's his greatest strength, so I think the role will fit him well. However, I have to imagine that with his strong track record, Ryan will gain immediate interest from other organizations, so I do wonder whether he'll be able to resist the pull of such offers. Was he truly tired of filling the GM role, or was he just tired of filling it here, under the budget restrictions imposed by Pohlad?
I have generally been a supporter of Ryan, but I'm not disappointed to see him step down. I have a lot of respect for the wonderful job he did of turning the Twins back into a contender after years of cellar-dwelling. He put the pieces in place to allow the team to turn a major corner back in 2001, and they haven't really looked back since. Lately, however, he has done little to help the club, and in my opinion he has actually impeded them from being able to take the next step. His free agent acquisitions have been disastrous. He has been far too timid on the trade market, guarding his pitching prospects while watching useful hitters get nabbed up by other clubs with less drastic offensive needs.
I have also grown increasingly dissatisfied with Ryan's apparent philosophies on the game. I suppose it's difficult to criticize the baseball mind of a man who has been around the game as long as Ryan, but when I read comments like, "I don't care about home runs," I have to wonder if maybe he's losing touch with some of the important aspects of building a team. In interviews, and when I met him personally, Ryan always seemed like a very nice and down-to-earth fellow; yet, he also seemed to have a stubborn air and a sometimes arrogant (and often misguided) mindset about the game that he didn't like to have challenged.
With all of that in mind, it should be nice to get some fresh blood in the GM spot for this organization. And yet, to say that I don't know much about Bill Smith would be an understatement. I've heard this guy's name maybe a handful of times in my life. Here's what La Velle's article in the Strib has to say about Smith:
Smith has been one of Ryan's closest advisors ever since he was named to his current position in 1994. Smith is well-versed in baseball rules and is a stickler for details. He watched practically every brick get put into place in the Twins' year-round facility in Fort Myers, Fla. He was the club's point man during its expansion into Latin America.I don't envy the man's position. He walks into an extremely crucial and difficult offseason for the Twins. Torii Hunter was already likely on the way out, but now that will happen under Smith's watch and not Ryan's. Meanwhile, Johan Santana and Joe Nathan both have just one year remaining on their contracts, and the Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer situations will need to be resolved at some point as well.
Certainly, Smith will be tested right away, and it will be very interesting to see how he fares. My hope is that he's a bit more aggressive and straightforward than Ryan. The Twins need to get into a "win now" mindset, because 2008 is shaping up to be a great chance to go for it all. With the expected return of Francisco Liriano and the possible last year of Santana and Nathan, the Twins need to add some pieces on offense and make a serious run. If they don't, it could be a while before they have this great of an opportunity.
Fortunately, the rookie GM Smith will have help. I'm glad that Ryan is staying with the organization, and I believe he will be a big help to Smith, especially in the early goings. Meanwhile, a few other key promotions were announced yesterday, with former scouting director Mike Radcliff moving into the Vice President of Player Personnel role and Rob Antony, former director of baseball operations and contracts, becoming assistant GM. I'm especially excited about the Radcliff promotion, because I am a big fan of his and I think he has done a magnificent job as scouting director.
The Twins didn't play a game yesterday, but it may end up being the most important day of the season for the organization. Numerous changes will be made, and all we can do is sit and wait to see how they play out. Ryan did some great things for this franchise during his lengthy tenure as GM, and I hope that Smith can step in and do the things that need to be done to put the Twins in a position to succeed next season. Terry, thanks; Bill, I'm excited to see what you can do.