Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
I expected the Pohlads to give Bill Smith another year to turn things around, based on the public pronouncements and the organization's publicly stated (and misguided) view that the 2011 season was largely the result of circumstances beyond its control.
Smith's firing is a sign that things were going as badly this fall at Target Field as they had been during the season. Whatever Smith brought to the Pohlads as solutions to the team's problems didn't play.
And Terry Ryan said he was available after four years away from the general manager's job.
Knowing that, and seeing the prospect of a team falling further into disrepair, it shouldn't have been a difficult call for the Pohlads to make. Surprising, yes. Difficult, not so much.
During Monday's press conference, Ryan was pretty strident about the need for change. Whatever has to be done won't be accomplished simply by extending spring training for three days, which was a solution presented with some fanfare toward in September to show how things would be different in 2012.
Three extra days in Florida? In February? With afternoons free for golf and the beach?
Let's keep in mind how far the Twins fell in 2011.
The challenge after the playoff disaster of the previous season -- yet another three games-and-gone -- was to create a roster that would not only be a playoff contender but a playoff factor. Even if Mauer and Morneau had been at 100 percent health, not one thing was done last winter to move the Twins in that direction. It's hard to look back through the wreckage and remember how we were looking at things last off-season, but the distress was of an entirely different nature, which now feels like a paper cut as opposed to a gaping wound.
Get more right-handed on offense? Didn't happen. Find a front-line starter? Didn't happen. Replace the guys cut loose in the bullpen with quality arms? Didn't happen. Upgrade the middle infield? Didn't happen.
Instead of improving the roster, the Twins trumpeted their re-signing of Carl Pavano in a free-agent market where his options were fewer than originally assumed. And they swapped out J.J. Hardy for Tsuyoshi Nishioka at shortstop, a personnel decision surpassed in ineptitude only by the notion that Nishioka may somehow be a factor at shortstop in 2012.
In other words, the Twins set a lose-lose course from the start of 2011. The best case was that they would put themselves in position once again to be overmatched in the postseason. The worst case is what happened, a team that crumbled under the weight of the mess of their decisions, on-field performance and injuries.
Now, faced with the prospect of becoming the Kansas City of the North, the Pohlads have turned over that mess to Ryan.
Much was made after Monday's press conference about the payroll shrinking from $115 million to about $100 million. Depending on how you look at the probable 2012 roster, about $75 million to $80 million is already committed -- including $38 million to Mauer and Morneau.
I am pretty confident that if the right opportunities arise, Ryan can convince the owners that $100 million should become $105 million or $110 million. But I am also sure that would only happen after the decisions are made that not a penny will be spent on Cuddyer, Kubel, Nathan and Capps in 2012. Hard good-byes are on the agenda.
Here's where Ryan comes in.
He's a baseball guy;. Smith was an administrator. You don't have to be a "baseball guy" to lead a winning organization, but without that background at the top, an organization has to be that much more reliant on mining and making use of the data that has become so much a part of baseball. The Twins haven't made that commitment -- certainly not to the extent of other teams -- and a crippling critical mass took over.
Whatever the case, I am more confident in Ryan at $100 million than Smith at $115 million. I am also hopeful that statistical voices in Ryan's front office will have a greater say at the personnel table.
I expect Ryan to more than nibble around the edges of the Twins' problems. His first stint was filled with significant moves that transformed the Twins from failures into playoff fixtures. That time, though, it took about a half-dozen years for his moves to yield success.
Now, we're expecting a quicker turnaround.
Like right away.
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