When Terry Ryan stepped aside from his GM post in the fall of 2007, relatively unknown, albeit well-respected Bill Smith became just the fifth general manager in Twins history . None of the previous four have been fired. Yet, in a job where the proverbial proof is in the pudding, Smith's desert has tasted sour in spoonfuls.
The wealth of comment and (to date) criticism directed toward Smith focuses on the Tampa trade that sent Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett away, in return for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie. I'm perhaps less critical than many as to the move; true, Garza andBartlett went to the Series last year and both have thrived as Rays -- coupled with Young's struggles, their success no doubt compounds the heat about Smith's collar. But hell: could anyone really predict Tampa's ascension in '08? Could anything portend Bartlett hitting nearly 40-points higher as a Ray? Were there any overt signs to illuminate Delmon Young's plight from #2 in ROY voting back in '07 to a .230 hitter with one home run this season?
I won't pretend to have imagined said scenarios. Although, in contrast with the above plot, less imagination was required to foresee the result of Smith's other magnified maneuver.
The Twins overachieved last season at 88-75, and it's tough to bemoan a rook GM overseeing his club to game #163 in his initial season, yet opinions still polarize about the definingscenario in Smith's brief tenure: the handling of Johan Santana. True, in keeping the celebrated ace in '08, the club would have ultimately received little in return. But there is nothing diminutive about the single victory that separated the club from the playoffs last year, and one is left with no other impression with which to ruminate other than the thought that a lame duck year with Johan would have propelled the Twins to the second season.
"Lame" becomes an apt segue in studying the result of what the club received for Santana: Carlos Gomez is hitting .220; pitchers Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey are a combined 20-23 in their collective time at Rochester, and Deoils Guerra's future appears sanguine, if not in a land far, far away. Additional, if not incipient review, of Smith's top minor league charges finds '08 first-rounder's Aaron Hicks and Carlos Gutierrez going swimmingly, with supplemental choice Shooter Hunt firing blanks with wayward control.
Furthermore, while Smith's collective extensions of Morneau and Nathan to a combined $127 million were necessary (and obvious), his decisions to give $32.5 mil to Cuddyer and Punto remain in question. These latter ballers, while fine Twins, too often tilt the scales of performance toward the Smith inking's of Livan Hernandez, Adam Everett, Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb, and Luis Ayala.
This is not New York - but with the Opening of Target Field, this will be a New Era in Minnesota baseball. With Twin gloves oft equating to kid gloves, Bill Smith's direction, leadership, and decisions of the next seven weeks need to result with far greater merit should he long hold the keys to our new house, and not make Twin history for the wrong reasons.
*portions of this piece were recorded for the "Writer's Rant" on am1500, May 17th, 2009.