Twins fire general manager Bill Smith, name former GM Terry Ryan as interim replacement

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Minnesota gave zero indication that general manager Bill Smith’s job was in jeopardy despite a 99-loss season, with ownership publicly issuing a vote of confidence last month, but today the Twins fired Smith and replaced him on an interim basis with former general manager Terry Ryan.

Smith replaced Ryan as GM in late 2007 and has made a series of unsuccessful big-picture moves, including trading Johan Santana, Matt Garza, Wilson Ramos, and J.J. Hardy for very underwhelming returns.

When Ryan stepped down from the job in 2007 he cited a desire to focus on baseball rather than the off-field responsibilities that come along with being a GM, whereas the perception of Smith is that he was far more suited to handle those off-field responsibilities than he was making personnel decisions. He made several nice low-wattage free agent signings, but the bigger the move the worse Smith fared.

It’s unclear how long Ryan plans to stay on as GM this time around, but last week the Twins brought back his former right-hand man, Wayne Krivsky, who left Minnesota to become Cincinnati’s GM in 2005. They also denied the Orioles’ request to interview vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff. This isn’t so much a front office shakeup as it is admitting a mistake and turning back to the clock to the previous regime.

UPDATE: Smith did a local radio interview with 1500-ESPN and was an organizational soldier to the end, refusing to say a bad word about anyone. He’s been offered another role in the organization, but said he’s undecided. It was a very weird post-firing chat and Smith cited “philosophical differences” while making it pretty obvious that he was surprised by the firing.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.