Twins owner Jim Pohlad decided last weekend that the 99 losses of last season called for drastic change. So a family ownership that had not fired either a manager or general manager since 1986 fired GM Bill Smith after four years on the job.
The Pohlad family did not require a lengthy search to find a replacement. Terry Ryan, the architect of the team's resurgence in the early 2000s, agreed to return to the job he had left four years ago, when he cited burnout.
The 58-year-old Ryan on Monday accepted the title of interim general manager, sounding very much like a man who intends to see another rebuilding job through.
"I don't know if it'll be for one year or 10 years," said Ryan, who was the team's GM from 1994 through 2007, before serving as a special adviser under Smith.
Later, Ryan added: "I would say, if I like this job, I think [Pohlad] will let me stay. If I don't, I'm going to try to set up a successor."
Two months ago, Pohlad said Smith would return for the 2012 season.
"There's no question I said [Smith's job was safe], and when I said it, I meant it," Pohlad said Monday. "But we did say at the time that we want to get better in 2012, and we'll see what the plan is. And like we've said, the plan that was proposed, we were on different pages."
Twins President Dave St. Peter gave Smith a heads-up over the weekend that Monday's news could be coming. Monday morning, Pohlad and St. Peter called Smith into a meeting and offered him another position in the organization. Smith said he plans to step back for about a month and think about it.
"It's a decision the ballclub felt it had to make and I respect that," Smith said. "When you take this position, you know it's probably not forever. It's much like dealing with players. You can't look at the last three or four years. You have to look at the next three or four years.
"And if the Pohlad family feels they need a little bit different voice, a little bit different leadership, then they have that obligation to make that move."
Smith added: "I'm absolutely thrilled that Terry Ryan has accepted this position. He's probably my closest friend in the game. He's as good a baseball man as I've ever met."
Ryan had grown tired of dealing with agents and the media when he resigned in September 2007. Smith had served as an assistant GM under Ryan and stepped in at a difficult time in team history.
That offseason, the Twins let All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter leave as a free agent to the Los Angeles Angels and traded two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to the Mets for four prospects who never fulfilled their promise. The Twins also traded Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, a deal that helped propel the Rays to the 2008 World Series.
But the Twins were a surprise team that year, too, losing a one-game playoff to the Chicago White Sox for the division title. The Twins won division titles in 2009 and 2010, only to suffer first-round playoff defeats to the New York Yankees both times.
Some of Smith's best moves were trading for Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch and Orlando Cabrera late in the 2009 season. He traded for J.J. Hardy and signed Orlando Hudson before the 2010 season, and the Twins went 94-68 in their first year at Target Field.
But Smith's moves since July 2010 have drawn heavy criticism from the team's fans, especially the trade that sent catcher Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for relief pitcher Matt Capps. The Twins also traded Hardy and Young for meager returns. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was signed out of Japan, did not look ready to be a starting major league infielder.
Throw in injuries to stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and the Twins sunk to 63-99 this year, despite having a franchise record $115 million payroll.
In another surprise Monday, Ryan said the payroll could be trimmed to $100 million.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Ryan said. "The GM meetings are coming up. Free agency's upon us already. The 40-man roster, winter meetings, arbitration, all that stuff that is coming, but I think we've got people intact that we can get this going back to where it was prior to the 2011 season."
After leaving the GM job, Ryan spent a lot of time scouting minor league and amateur games for the Twins but was also a key part of Smith's inner circle, along with Vice President of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff and assistant GM Rob Antony.
Monday, Ryan confirmed former assistant GM Wayne Krivsky will be returning as a special assistant. Krivsky, who left the Twins to become the Reds GM in 2005, will focus on professional scouting, but Ryan will tap him frequently for advice.
"Obviously, I talk to Wayne a lot because I value his opinion -- a lot," Ryan said.
Ryan, who was scouting the Arizona Fall League last week, looked revitalized as he addressed the media, wearing a sharp black blazer and open-collared white dress shirt.
"If we'd have won 94 games [last season], I wouldn't be sitting here," said Ryan, whose agreement allows him to select his successor as Twins GM. "I didn't want Bill Smith's job. He knows it. I don't like the way it happened, but, unfortunately, here we are.
"But I'm willing to take this on, and I think I can do the job for the organization. I know I certainly have enough experience. I'm much more prepared to take this job right now than I was in '94. So I'm anxious to get going."
Joe Christensen • 612-673-7844