If there's one aspect of Bill Smith's forgettable tenure as Twins general manager that will stick with me, it's the veil of secrecy that came attached to all of the organization's operations. Front office personnel are not typically the most candid folks -- understandably so -- but Smith would protect every little detail regarding the team's decision-making as if it were a matter of national security. His interviews were about as dull as his name.
As such, it is fitting that the oddly-timed announcement of Smith's dismissal from the GM position on Monday came with little explanation. In a hastily scheduled press conference, Jim Pohlad would cite only "philosophical differences" while refusing to delve into any particulars.
At this point all we know is that, about a month ago, Pohlad indicated that Smith's job was not in danger, bristling at the notion that the Twins would resort to such a "knee-jerk" reaction after one bad season. Yet, here in November, with free agency already underway, Smith has been suddenly fired and replaced by his predecessor, Terry Ryan.
Given the dearth of available information, any conclusions we draw are going to be largely speculative. However, considering that the Twins' brass met very recently to discuss offseason planning, it seems safe to say that Smith's ideas about how to proceed did not align with those of the ownership. The final portion of this statement from Pohlad leaves little doubt about that:
No one in the Twins' organization wants to win any more than Bill ... The Twins' goal is to get better in 2012 and beyond. Bill was equally motivated to achieve that goal, but we differed in the scope and approach that was required.
One could venture to guess that Smith adamantly pushed for a more long-term rebuilding process, which would entail punting the the 2012 season for all intents and purposes. Ownership, feeling the pressure of a disgruntled fan base hungry for meaningful steps aimed at short-term improvement, simply could not accept this approach and handed the reigns back to a man whose moves fueled a decade of success.
On the flip side, one could also surmise that Smith was unhappy with the team's proposed spending reduction (Ryan pegged $100 million as an estimate) and felt inhibited from taking the actions he needed to right the ship. Drastically improving a 99-loss club with only $18 million or so is a tall task, and another ugly season in 2012 would only further tarnish Smith's reputation. The Twins, noting Ryan's past proclivity for succeeding under financial restrictions, may have opted simply to go back to what's worked before.
Either scenario seems plausible, but -- as I said -- it's really all just speculation for now. What we know is that Smith's blunder-filled reign at the helm has come to a close, and Ryan is back in charge after a four-year hiatus. Those who have grown exasperated with the club's direction in recent years should think twice before exploding into a jubilant celebration, however.
I wrote a post back in late September yearning for an injection of fresh thinking into the Twins' front office power structure. While swapping Ryan for Smith qualifies as a major shake-up, it hardly guarantees a complete change in philosophy; in fact, it falls right in line with the good-ol-boy, promote-from-within strategy for filling vacancies that we've come to expect.
By all accounts, Ryan remained heavily involved in the team's decision-making during Smith's shaky tenure, and the only new figure who's been added to the front office mix through all this is Wayne Krivsky, who was a long-time fixture here before. Ryan is now the man in charge, but it's not clear that this will drastically alter the traditional and heavily scouting-based approach that has increasingly hurt the club in recent years.
That's not to say I disapprove. Far from it. It's become clear to most who follow this team that Ryan -- a trained scout -- has a better understanding of the game than Smith, and the Twins are clearly doing right by the fans, as evidenced by a Star Tribune poll that has a whopping 97 percent of readers approving of the decision.
Personally, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Terry Ryan and at the very least I'll enjoy reading his reliably insightful quotes rather than Smith's obnoxious administrative cliches. My dissatisfaction with Smith over the past year has been well documented and I'm all for a change in direction at the top, even if I wasn't necessarily clamoring for it. I'm not convinced that shuffling front office personnel will completely cure all of the misguided philosophies that have plagued this organization at times, but I can say this much:
The unexpected switch adds yet another level of intrigue to what was already shaping up as a pretty interesting offseason.