The catastrophic start to the Minnesota Twins season has led fans to ponder the fate of Terry Ryan, the general manager and architect of a team that appears headed for a fifth 90-loss season in six years.
Recent comments from owner Jim Pohlad served to reinforce a notion that has long been held by followers of the team: Ryan isn’t going anywhere unless it’s on his own terms.
But who is to say that day isn't drawing near?
Ryan has been a GM for two decades, and has been involved with the game professionally twice as long. He has seen everything there is to see. He has relationships with everyone in baseball. He receives effusive praise from his colleagues and peers. His passion and investment could never be questioned.
With that being said, it's certainly reasonable to cast doubt on his adequacy for the head role at this point, given the way many of his key decisions are now playing out on the field. The fact that he’s a “baseball man” and oversaw the construction of a team that contended for many years at the turn of the century doesn’t mean that he’s the best person for the job in 2016.
From this perspective, the bitterness stirred up by ownership’s deferment to Ryan in the face of major organizational turmoil is understandable. But it ignores the fact that Ryan’s tenure may be reaching an end in the relatively near future regardless.
At 62, Ryan is approaching the standard retirement age. He’s the second-oldest general manager in baseball, behind Sandy Alderson of the Mets. He initially stepped aside following a losing 2007 season that took a toll and wore him down; this 2016 campaign is shaping up to be more tumultuous and gut-wrenching than that one in all regards.
Even if it’s his call, how much longer is he really going to wait to make it?
Focus turns to a line of succession, which presently looks quite insular. This is where it becomes problematic that the Twins have done so little to add fresh blood to their front office structure. Ryan’s right-hand men are longtime fixtures like Rob Antony, Mike Radcliff and Wayne Krivsky.
If things continue down the path they’re going, I don’t think anyone would feel too inspired by Ryan’s replacement being promoted from within the current braintrust.
It’s awfully hard to envision the Twins looking outside though, isn’t it? This is a franchise that hasn’t hired externally for a manager or general manager opening in my 30 years of life.
The Twins’ decision to re-hire Ron Gardenhire last month as a special assistant to the GM was met with a few scoffs and snide jokes for obvious reasons, but it highlights a very real issue that is becoming magnified. Why are these kinds of positions being used to give jobs to old friends rather than grooming potential GM candidates that aren’t completely ingrained in the existing culture?
I know many, if not most, will disagree, but I’m not all that bothered by the owner’s aversion to firing Ryan. The man is an MLB institution. Even amidst his rougher patches – and this is clearly one of them – I have faith in his competence and qualification.
I can’t necessarily say the same for anyone who would be in line to take over internally, nor can I express any real confidence in the organization’s top decision-makers to comb all available avenues for a fitting successor. They’ve never done it before and they continually show minimal interest in bringing outside influences or ideas to the baseball operations department. The last time Ryan stepped down his job was handed to his second-in-command, and we got the underwhelming Bill Smith years.
It's not upsetting that the Twins aren't considering firing their GM in May. That would be reactive and likely unproductive. It's upsetting that they aren't being proactive in laying out a roadmap for after he's gone. That lack of proactiveness could leave them in a very tough spot when their aging GM decides, again, that he doesn't have the heart for it anymore.