Twins parting ways with GM Bill Smith a little shocking

The Minnesota Twins have decided to try and rekindle the glory days of just five years ago, back when fans were complaining about first-round playoff exits instead of longing for them.

The Twins announced Monday that Bill Smith is out as general manager, and he will be replaced on an interim basis by Terry Ryan. Ryan served as GM from 1994-2007 before giving way to Smith, as Ryan accepted a position as an adviser to him.

Minnesota lost 99 games in 2011, and its minor league system is in shambles. Nevertheless, this is a bit of a surprising move, since the Twins have a reputation as an organization of not firing people. They have had just three general managers since 1985 and two managers since 1986.

While Ryan’s first years with the club were not impressive at the big league level, he is famous for some of the smaller deals he made that turned into blockbusters. He acquired David Ortiz, Johan Santana and Joe Mays in minor deals during his tenure, along with sending disgruntled second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for a package of players that included shortstop Cristian Guzman and pitcher Eric Milton. Those players he got in return helped turn around a downtrodden franchise, leading the Twins in 2002 to their first division title in 11 years.

Postseason berths have been the norm over the last decade, but good times came to a screeching halt this past season.

Smith had some big decisions on his plate when he took the reins from Ryan in 2007. The Santana and Torii Hunter contracts hung over the team. And while Smith made some nice, low-risk moves in acquiring pitchers Carl Pavano and Jon Rauch in recent years, his record will always be haunted by the lack of useful talent he got in return for Santana, who was shipped to the Mets.

This past offseason was especially horrific. The signing of Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka – so far – has been a failure. So was the trade that sent sure-handed shortstop J.J. Hardy to the O’s – where he found his power stroke again – for two pitchers.

I think Smith’s departure was a necessary move. I thought he did a nice job in taking more of a look at the international market with the additions of German outfielder Max Kepler and Dominican teenager Miguel Angel Sano,┬ábut the rest of the minor league system needs help.

Smith always considered himself to be more of administrator than a talent evaluator. But the Twins need talent right now, at every level.

And while Smith deserves plenty of blame for the trades that didn’t work out, I’ll always credit Smith for being one of the most accessible team executives in the Twin Cities market.

Smith and Twins President Dave St. Peter are the only two people that I never have trouble with when I needed a quote or a guest on “Sports Talk”, etc. I doubt that will change with Ryan, but Smith should get some credit for that. Not everyone in the Cities is as willing to talk to the media in Fargo whenever they need something.