Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: Introduction

It seems safe to say that
the residents of Twins
Territory had lost
confidence in Bill Smith.
In the immediate wake of the Twins front office shakeup, White Sox blogger Jim Margalus (South Side Sox, linked to on the sidebar) noted that in Bill Smith's four years at the helm the Twins won two divisional titles and missed a third by the most slender of margins. "Contrast that to Kenny Williams, who has been to the postseason twice in his 11 years on the job, and man, Jerry Reinsdorf's patience seems endless."

Of course, Smith's fourth season was a doozy.

Margalus' critique of the Smith era focuses, as does that of many (most?) Twins fans, on the big trades Smith made and (mostly) lost. But those who judge a general manager on that basis alone are missing out on large swaths of the job, and the indictment against Smith — the problems that ultimately cost him his job — is deeper and more varied.

The charges levied against Bill Smith, charged as a failure in the court of public opinion and convicted by a jury of his bosses:

  • He consistently "lost" in trades;
  • He mishandled the payroll budget;
  • He presided over a decline in player development;
  • He presided over a decline in the medical/training/conditioning/rehab field;
  • He failed to expand the organization's player evaluation from its expertise in traditional scouting to include sophisticated statistical analysis.

In coming days, I intend to examine each of these complaints against Smith (not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily consecutively). It is, however, valuable to remember that these are not necessarily failures of an individual, but collective failures by the organization. Smith takes the blame for the team's problems because he was the man on top of the pile.

At the peak of the Terry Ryan era, when it seemed the entire world of baseball media was anointing him as the bestest general manager in the game, Ryan himself was quick to deflect the credit to the men around him -- people like Mike Radcliff (then director of scouting); Jim Rantz (farm director); Ron Gardenhire (field manager); and Bill Smith (assistant general manager).

Some of the titles changed, but the same people were still around in 2011.

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