FORT MYERS, FLA. - Bill Smith, entering his third season as the Twins general manager, came to the Hammond Stadium pressbox in the second inning of Sunday's exhibition game against Tampa Bay.

Smith was there to acknowledge the loss of Joe Nathan to right elbow surgery. As for the next closer, Boisterous Bill made it clear the Twins will either stay inside or go outside the organization for a replacement.

There appeared to be a dab of sweat on Smith's upper lip as he gave these controversial responses. It seemed to be a small sign of the stress the GM might be feeling over the perceived crisis in his bullpen.


The true reason for Smith's perspiration was revealed four hours later, at 5:41 p.m. in Florida, when media relations boss Mike Herman handed out a release in the pressbox that carried the headline:


The first sentence of the release revealed that Mauer's deal will pay him $184 million for those eight seasons. That amounts to $23 million per annum and carries Hometown Joe through the 2018 season.

The parameters for making this deal obviously were set by Jim Pohlad, CEO of the Twins and co-owner with his brothers. Smith and his assistant, Rob Antony, did the heavy work in negotiations with Ron Shapiro, Mauer's agent.

There never has been a more unlikely character to fork over $184 million of the bosses' money than Smith. He carried the nickname "Mr. No'' in the organization, particularly for his dollar-watching as Terry Ryan's assistant from 1994 through the 2007 season.

Smith is a guy who has been known to praise the virtues of "blemished balls'' -- the seconds from the factory -- over official major league balls for batting practice in spring training.

Last November, Smith drove to the general managers meeting in Chicago, rather than taking one of those high-falutin' planes.

Several years ago, Smith and his boss Ryan were roomies at a LaQuinta while watching the Arizona Fall League before the start of the GM meetings in Phoenix. Their peers already had moved into the luxurious and costly Poinciana Resort a few days early.

On Sunday, the Mauer deal was finalized, and Mr. No had given out 184 million of the Pohlads' dollars. With that announcement pending, it's a surprise that Smith wasn't accompanied to his media session on Nathan by paramedics, rather than an inkling of sweat.

Ryan, Smith's mentor, tried to keep rumors to a minimum when it came to negotiations and possible player acquisitions. He wasn't in the same ballpark as Smith when it comes to paranoia over keeping such matters in-house.

That made Smith and Shapiro perfect foils for this budget-bashing deal. Shapiro chooses his clients wisely and negotiates silently.

One insight Shapiro has offered is that if a high-profile client wants to stay with a team, he will figure out a way to make that happen. He did that with Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore and Kirby Puckett in Minnesota within four months of 1992.

The Ripken signing didn't take place until Aug. 24, with the Orioles legend a mere two months from free agency.

There's no way the Minnesota populace could have withstood a Mauer drama that dragged through this summer. The amount of media and the outlets to publicly express opinions -- no matter how outrageous -- has grown so large in 18 years that Mauer's unflappable nature would have been tested by a daily tempest of rumors and reactions.

On Saturday, listeners already were calling a talk show on the team's Twin Cities affiliate to label Mauer "greedy'' for not taking the Twins' offer, whatever it might be. And there were more fans ready to attack the Pohlads with the worn-out canard of being "cheap.''

The public was choosing sides, even in a void of meaningful information. The two sides were handling the situation with as much class and as privately as possible, and yet the public and the media were starting to shout opinions.

The first exhibition -- the first time a Twins lineup would be announced in Target Field -- was 12 days away. It was not in the interest of either the catcher or the team to have 40,000 spectators gazing at this spectacular home to Minnesota's next 40 years of big-league baseball and saying in unison:

"Do you think they're going to sign Joe?''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •