The Twins announced today that they have relieved general manager Terry Ryan of his duties. Longtime assistant GM Rob Antony will act as the team’s new general manager on an interim basis. Unlike many teams the dismiss their GM midseason, the Twins will not delay their search for a new general manager until the offseason and are expected to begin considering candidates in the coming weeks, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB.com (via Twitter).
“Since joining our organization as a player in 1972, Terry has been a dedicated, loyal and respected member of the Minnesota Twins family,” said Twins owner Jim Pohlad in a statement. “Terry has been a gifted leader of the baseball department for over eighteen seasons. It is impossible to overstate his contribution to our game, our team and the Upper Midwest baseball community. The decision to part with Terry was difficult, painful and not obvious. We are extremely grateful and very thankful to Terry, his wife Karilyn, and their family for being a part of the Minnesota Twins.”
Ryan has spent two separate stints as the Twins’ general manager, first from 1994 through 2007 and once again from 2011 through present day. Longtime Ryan lieutenant Bill Smith was Minnesota’s GM between Ryan’s two stints, though the Twins’ tailspin into their current status as AL Central bottom-dwellers began under Smith, prompting the club to replace him with Ryan. Trades of Wilson Ramos and J.J. Hardy as well as the ill-fated signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka under Smith set the club back, and while Ryan did well to rebuild a farm system that has received plenty of national acclaim, the Twins have seen few of those farmhands convert into difference-making talent at the big league level. Moreover, the Twins have simply performed as one of the worst teams in baseball over the past half-decade under Ryan’s watch, and while his defenders can point to a bolstered farm system, the Twins had no shortage of missteps in terms of free-agent signings and trades for big league talent under Ryan’s watch.
The signing of Ricky Nolasco, to this point, hasn’t worked out in the least, and the three-year extension of Phil Hughes on the heels of his breakout 2014 campaign looks questionable with the benefit of hindsight. Injuries, of course, have played a role in each of those now ill-fated contracts, though the Nolasco deal in particular seemed to come with limited upside even at the time of the signing. The three years that Mike Pelfrey spent in a Twins uniform produced little to no on-field value, and the decision to re-sign him to a two-year deal following a woeful debut campaign was questioned by many. Minnesota also inked Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55MM contract under Ryan, and while he’s performed reasonably well when on the field — Santana served an 80-game PED suspension before ever throwing a regular-season pitch in a Twins uniform — the Twins already had a host of mid-rotation arms at that point.
On the trade front, swapping three years of Denard Span for Alex Meyer hasn’t paid off (though, again, Meyer’s balky shoulder has largely contributed to that disappointment), and the additions of Vance Worley and Trevor May in exchange for Ben Revere haven’t yielded much big league value for the Twins outside of a solid 2015 campaign for May. The Kevin Jepsen pickup panned out well in 2015, but Jepsen has struggled all season in 2016 and was recently released by Minnesota.
All that said, Ryan was a significant factor in the Twins’ rise to prominence in the early to mid-2000s. Faced with minimal payrolls and an unflattering home venue that made it difficult to use the limited resources he had to lure free agents to Minnesota, Ryan and his staff were able to bring the Twins from the brink of contraction to perennial contender in the American League Central. Ryan remained loyal to Minnesota even in the face of contraction, turning away the opportunity to join the Blue Jays due to his longstanding place within the Twins organization. Those in the media and in the industry persistently offer nothing but the utmost praise and respect for the longtime executive. The Twins’ 2000s core of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer were all success stories from the draft, and the club’s Rule 5 pickup of Johan Santana will go down as one of the best in history. Ryan’s trade of A.J. Pierzynski for Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser is to this day lauded as one of the more lopsided swaps in recent memory.
History aside, the 2016 Twins are considered one of the most, if not the single most disappointing team in baseball, having gone from an 83-win club that looked to be headed in the right direction to a last-place team that is on pace for fewer than 60 wins and has seen rising young talent like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Kyle Gibson all perform considerably below expectation. With Ryan out of the picture and former manager Ron Gardenhire swapped out for Minnesota native Paul Molitor, the Twins have moved on from one of the longest-tenured leadership pairings in all of Major League Baseball.
The question, then, is whether the Twins will continue their traditional trend of promoting from within the organization or look to move in another direction entirely in the front office. The Twins are regarded as a largely traditional club, typically eschewing more modern statistical analysis in favor of traditional scouting tactics. That’s not to say that the club has no analytics department in place whatsoever, of course, but it’ll be interesting to see if the club follows the path of organizations such as the Brewers and Phillies — who hired young, analytically inclined execs David Stearns and Matt Klentak — or mirror an organization like the D-backs, which replaced an “old-school” GM (Kevin Towers) for a similarly traditional blend of executives (Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart).
Shifting from a more long-term outlook to a short-term lens, the decision to part with Ryan will task Antony, special assistant Wayne Krvisky (formerly the Reds’ GM) and vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff with navigating the team’s trades in the coming two weeks. Ryan has previously said that he felt it necessary to be open to listening on any player, and given Minnesota’s standing, it’d be a surprise if the remaining decision-makers employed a different approach to the non-waiver deadline. Players like Santana, Eduardo Nunez, Kurt Suzuki, Fernando Abad and Brandon Kintzler each could hold appeal to teams in the hunt for midseason upgrades, as each is performing well and offers limited remaining control for the Twins.