On a day many Twins employees were shaken by news that Terry Ryan was stepping down as general manager, CEO Jim Pohlad stood inside a packed news conference and made a bold pronouncement.
"I think you could easily make the case," he said Thursday, "that we're going to be a better organization as a result of this."
How is that possible?
Ryan has been named Sporting News Executive of the Year twice in the past six years.
He was the architect of four recent playoff teams whose combined payroll -- about $215 million -- measures with the amount the Yankees spend over one season.
When Bill Smith officially replaces Ryan on Oct. 1, it'll be the first day of an offseason that figures to be as important as any in Twins history.
Torii Hunter will be a free agent. Johan Santana and Joe Nathan will be 12 months away from hitting the market. The Twins have gaping holes at third base and designated hitter, and their list of arbitration-eligible players includes Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.
A veteran GM might feel overwhelmed by that agenda. Smith will be learning on the fly.
"He's well-prepared for this, administratively; I don't think we'll miss a beat," said team president Dave St. Peter. "In fact, I think that there are some areas where we have a chance to improve on, based on Billy's skill set. At the same time, Billy has assembled a [front office] team that is as deep and talented as any group in baseball."
Herein lies the Twins' confidence.
Smith has a different background than Ryan, but the Twins hope their new alignment -- with Smith in charge and Ryan focused on talent --actually makes them stronger.
Ryan kept a relatively tight inner circle; Smith's figures to expand.
Rob Antony, who looks like a future GM himself, was promoted to assistant GM.
Mike Radcliff, rated the game's best scouting director by Baseball America, moved to vice president of player personnel. Instead of focusing on amateurs, he can work to gather top professional talent. Radcliff will spend spring training with the Twins and help Smith and manager Ron Gardenhire determine the final roster, forming what Smith called a "three-headed monster."Mike Radcliff is a shining star," St. Peter said. "He is one of the most respected evaluators in the game today. I think this is a fresh start for him to grow and evolve in his career."
Ryan never technically replaced assistant general manager Wayne Krivsky when he left to become Reds general manager in February 2006. Instead, Ryan spread out Krivsky's duties. Now the promotions have come en masse.
San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers is a close friend of Ryan's who doesn't know Smith as well. But after hearing the new plan, Towers said, "With Minnesota it'll work. It may not work with a lot of organizations, but in that one, it will."
"Just because there is so much continuity," Towers said. "People just like working there so much. They're not trying to jump over each other. They're comfortable with one another. They like one another. I think that's why you see very few people -- scouts or anyone -- leave the organization."
Baltimore Orioles President Andy MacPhail said the Twins' new alignment reminds him of the way the team was structured when he was GM and his top talent evaluators were Bob Gebhard and Ryan.
"There is such a variety of responsibilities that are required of a general manager today that there is no candidate who possesses all of the talents," MacPhail said. "You have to identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and those that are weaknesses, you have to surround yourself with people who can do them better."
When it comes to trades and the free-agent market, Smith can rely on Ryan, Radcliff and the team's other respected scouts. On contract negotiations, Antony moves to the foreground, and Ryan can wash his hands of them.
Ryan said player agents won't miss him one bit. But veteran agent Alan Meersand disagrees.
"I respect Terry as much as any GM in the game," he said. "He's a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. And Bill's a carbon copy of Terry, so the Twins aren't in any kind of trouble."
Smith might be well-liked, but he could wind up looking like the bad guy if the Twins can't keep Hunter, Santana and the others. In general, Meersand doesn't expect the financial strategy to change.
"It's not like Terry's a cheapskate; he's not," Meersand said. "There's an old saying that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In this case, the tree is Carl Pohlad. Terry's an apple. Bill's an apple. Mike Radcliff's an apple, too. They're all on the same page."
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