Twins' season culminating with GM's departure
MINNEAPOLIS -- Terry Ryan became one of baseball's most revered general managers this decade by doing more with less. He didn't wear a uniform, but he was a major player in Minnesota's recent success.
The demands of the job began to bother him, though, and Ryan became ready for a different role. After 13 years as GM of the Twins, which included four postseason appearances, Ryan announced his resignation Thursday -- effective at the end of the month.
Assistant general manager Bill Smith will replace him, and Ryan will be his senior adviser.
"He's one of the best administrators in the game," a rival GM told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney of Smith. "I don't know what kind of evaluator he is, but he is one solid individual, one of the best executives. He'll rely on his people."
The 53-year-old Ryan, who said he's as "healthy as a horse,'' built a reputation as one of the game's most savvy executives for putting a winning team on the field with a modest amount of money for player salaries.
"I felt a lot of elation when we won and sorrow when we lost,'' Ryan said at a news conference to discuss the reorganized front office. "Now all of a sudden, the defeats are getting a little harder to take, and the wins aren't as much fun. That's not a good thing to experience as a general manager.''
The Twins won the American League Central last season for the fourth time in five years, but they're two games under .500 this season and well out of the playoff chase.
"If we won 100 games this year or lost 100 games, this was going to happen,'' Ryan said.
At the beginning of this season, the Twins were 19th in the majors with a payroll of about $71 million. The New York Yankees were tops with more than $195 million.
"I've always been on his side. For what he has and the limitations he has with payroll, he's done a great job,'' All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter said. "You give this guy a Yankee payroll, and I promise you he will do 10 times better than any GM out there.''
Always stoic and close-to-the-vest, Ryan choked up at the end of a long list of thank-yous when he mentioned his wife, Karilyn; his 19-year-old son, Tim; and his 16-year-old daughter, Kathleen.
After composing himself, Ryan looked at 92-year-old owner Carl Pohlad -- whose tight budget has drawn plenty of ire from fans and analysts -- and praised him for his loyalty. Though it always appeared Ryan could have created a stronger roster with a few more dollars to work with, he was steadfast in his support for team ownership.
"You're a good man. You take all the bullets in this organization, but you never get any of the accolades,'' Ryan told Pohlad.
Hunter will be a free agent in the fall, and two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana's contract expires after the 2008 season. The Twins don't move into their new ballpark until 2010, and Pohlad's son, Jim, said the family won't go much higher than the general guideline of spending 50 percent of team revenue on player salaries.
"That's what got baseball in trouble during all those years, those dark days of contraction and all that,'' Jim Pohlad said.
That means the Twins will find it nearly impossible to keep all their stars while they're still in the Metrodome. First baseman Justin Morneau, closer Joe Nathan and right fielder Michael Cuddyer are among the others in line for contract extensions.
Ryan said those issues had nothing to do with his resignation.
"Those decisions are going to be here, whether I'm here or not,'' Ryan said.
He also said criticism he took at the trade deadline for dealing second baseman Luis Castillo and not acquiring another hitter for a sagging offense was irrelevant to his choice.
"Any general manager in a chair has better be prepared to have some things written and said about you that aren't very complimentary,'' Ryan said.
Ryan took over for Andy MacPhail at the end of the 1994 season, and it wasn't until the 2001 turnaround when the Twins ended a streak of eight straight losing years. But after many mistakes early in his tenure, he led the organization's commitment to drafting and developing players -- a necessity given the payroll constraint -- and helped form a model franchise that fellow general managers often marveled at.
When young players were poised for significant raises, Ryan signed most of the ones he wanted to keep and traded others at the right time. The greatest heist was his deal with San Francisco that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants when Joe Mauer was ready to move behind the plate, bringing Nathan and pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano in return.
More recently, a farm system that annually produces top pitching prospects has failed to yield players at key positions -- prompting Ryan to sign relatively inexpensive veterans to fill holes. Most of them have been busts, like left fielder and designated hitter Rondell White who is hitting .152 in 92 at-bats this season on his second one-year contract.
Ryan's background and strength is as a scout, and he'll refocus on that. Smith, who was promoted to assistant general manager two days after Ryan started as GM, is better at the administrative parts of the job. He also, Ryan said, will have more patience with agents when contract talks heat up.
The Twins have always held a promote-from-within philosophy, so Smith's appointment was not a surprise.
"This isn't broken,'' he said. "We've got so many positives.''
A native of Wisconsin, Ryan's minor league career with the Twins was cut short by arm trouble. He was a scout for the New York Mets until he was hired as Minnesota's scouting director in 1986.
"This is a good thing for me. My health's intact. My marriage is intact. That's a difficult thing to do in baseball," Ryan said.
There were several dark years, and Ryan's hold on his job was tenuous until 2001. A group of young players, most of them scouted and drafted by Ryan's department, came together that year and set the stage for a successful decade.
The Twins won a weak AL Central in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and in a suddenly deep, difficult division they made a stunning turnaround in 2006 from a 25-33 start to finish 96-66 and take their fourth Central title in the past five years.
"They should name the [new] ballpark after him," the rival GM told Olney.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.