Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ryan Steps Down

Alright, I've had a chance to sit down and reflect on this for a few hours now, and this post is my attempt to write a first-blush opinion on a matter that will take months (years, really) to fully evaluate. Here goes nothing --

1.) First things first: Thank you, Terry Ryan, for 13 years of service as the Twins GM. The early years were a struggle -- but he is more responsible for the resurgence of Twins baseball from 2001 to the present than anyone else, and for that he deserves a great deal of credit. I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

2.) Second -- and equally heartfelt -- congratulations to Bill Smith, a truly good guy who absolutely deserves the chance to run the show. If Bill is half as good of an administrator as is rumored, and if he's anywhere near as nice a guy as he was when I met him a few years ago, then the Twins are in excellent, excellent hands. I'm thrilled that the Twins have gone in-house with this hire, and can't wait to see how Smith develops as a GM.

3.) Now, to some more substantive issues, starting with one of the silliest things I've heard all day. Ryan's announcement caught everyone by surprise, and as a result many fans have taken to speculating whether or not Ryan was forced out as the GM. While anything is possible in this crazy world, I'm incredibly doubtful that this decision was anything but voluntary, and here are a plethora of reasons why:
  • The Twins are incredibly loyal -- they don't fire managers and they don't fire GM's.
  • The Twins track record for the last 7 seasons speaks for itself, as does Ryan's track record and reputation as a GM. This is certainly a down year for the organization, but TR didn't forget how to do his job, and a firing would be incredibly undeserved.
  • The decision to hire Bill Smith as TR's replacement speaks volumes. If the Twins upper-level brass felt that a change was needed in the front office, it wouldn't make much sense to hire the guy who has been at TR's side since 1994, and who has presumably learned how to "be a GM" from him. If Ryan had been pushed out, it seems much more likely that the organization would have looked elsewhere for a replacement.
  • TR is staying on until September 30 -- I can think of no reason why the Twins would have asked him to continue on as GM if they were the ones who initiated this move.
  • In a similar vein, it would be unusual (although not unprecedented) for a GM who had been forced out of power to retain a position in the organization. TR is taking a senior adviser position with the team (I imagine the role will be somewhat similar to that occupied by former manager Tom Kelly), making it much less likely that he was pushed out.
  • Perhaps most obviously, TR's explanation makes perfect sense. Why look to a conspiracy theory for an answer when a perfectly good explanation is available?
None of this is conclusive, of course -- but all of these things together provide strong circumstantial evidence that Ryan chose to leave of his own volition. Unless a smoking gun proves me wrong, I'll continue to believe that Ryan legitimately felt it was time to go.

4.) From what I hear (my spy is my dad, who lives in Minnesota and was watching the news tonight), the Twin Cities sports guys are up in arms about this move, believing that it means next season will be the beginning of a rebuilding process. I think that's hogwash (although I could be wrong). The reasons why I think that's hogwash are too lengthy and far afield to include in an article that's devoted to the departure of TR, but rest assured that I'll be going into them in depth as the season comes to an end. For now, let me just say that the doom and gloom is misplaced -- I think Bill Smith will be a perfectly suitable replacement, and if the Twins make the right moves this off-season (it is, in fact, quite possible), they'll be competing for a playoff spot again next year.

5.) So what is TR's ultimate legacy? I've been a bit of an apologist for him, largely because I think he's a good GM. Unfortunately, he's leaving on a down year when many of his moves can be criticized. For the record, here are some decisions from the past 12 months and my position on them:
  • Picking up Torii Hunter's option: great decision -- without Hunter, the Twins 2007 season would have been a real nightmare.
  • Picking up Carlos Silva's option: good decision -- Silva was a known quantity, and the market for starting pitchers wasn't particularly good. Silva had a decent 2007 for the Twins, holding down his job and giving the Twins a veteran presence on the mound. Considering how the youngsters have pitched this year, it's also hard to say that he was taking up someone else's spot in the rotation.
  • Signing Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson: neutral -- Ryan knew the limitations of the market and of his payroll. He took a gamble on Ortiz and Ponson, and had either of them pitched well it would have been a great decision. I find it hard to fault Ryan for either of these moves, because it really was like buying a lottery ticket -- it didn't work out, but the upside was significant and the alternative options were incredibly undesirable.
  • Keeping Nick Punto as the starting third baseman: neutral to bad decision -- I'm not sure what's fair here -- Punto played well last year (and the stat geeks will tell you a repeat of that performance was unlikely), but he's played historically badly this year (and that's not something that TR could have foreseen). If Punto had put up numbers close to his historical average, and considering the virtually non-existent options on the market over the past off-season, I lean to neutral on this decision. Signing Punto to a two-year deal, however, gives me pause -- it was based on just one good season, and now seems like a mistake. Two years and a couple million won't kill a team, but the decision to give him the contract nudges this into the "bad decision" category.
  • Trading Luis Castillo: good decision, mediocre result -- I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the Twins were not going to the playoffs this season based on what they had at the end of July. With Luis Castillo's contract expiring, TR made the right decision to move him. Unfortunately, the market for second basemen was exceedingly thin, and the Twins got just uninspiring prospects for Castillo. Considering that the alternative was letting him languish, I support the move -- even if it did result in Johan Santana getting a bit feisty.
Those are the highlight decisions, but I could certainly add some more -- for instance, the terrible decision to bring back Lew Ford when he should have been non-tendered. I'll leave the list where it's at, however, and say that this was not Ryan's finest year, but it turned out worse than it could have and isn't all TR's fault. I give him a B- for the season, and an A- overall for his career. He wasn't the best GM in the business, but he was far from the worst.

I imagine some more things will pop into my head in the next few days (such as some comments on the rest of the reorganized front office), but for now I'm going to leave it here. Farewell, Terry -- and welcome to the hot seat, Bill.



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