…but he has been dealt a whole lot of bad hands in his short tenure as Twins GM. Bear with me as we go through the major trades Smith has made. I don't love any of them -- and I'm still more than a little annoyed about the Hardy deal -- but each has defensible reasoning behind it.
Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie
People forget that Garza and Bartlett got themselves (rightly or wrongly) into the coaching staff's doghouse to the point that they were eternally on the AAA-MLB bench shuttle bus, losing playing time to the likes of Juan Castro and Boof Bonser. Obviously there was the feeling that Young could be a superstar, and despite his issues we weren't going to get that kind of potential for nothing.
Now, I'm getting into speculative territory here, but I feel that it's pretty darn likely. Consider the following situation:
- The front office believes in the Twins Way, and much of that flows down from the MLB coaching staff. I don't think this is particularly controversial.
- The MLB coaching staff didn't feel that Bartlett and Garza were good fits for the Twins Way. Again, not a huge stretch for anyone who followed the team from '06-'07.
- The Twins' power outage was verging on the historic, and any useful outfield prospects (non-Span division, and he still kinda looked like a bust at that point) are years away.
- Garza/Bartlett/Morlan for Young/Harris/Pridie
I still think that if Harris had ever taken that last step to becoming a league-average hitter -- and he looked like he was going to, several times -- this trade wouldn't engender nearly the hate.
I don't love this trade. I'm not trying to defend it as a good move that improved the team. I feel that the MLB coaching staff could occasionally make a little more effort to work with talented players that are pissing them off rather than throwing their hands in the air and demanding the FO sign a crappy veteran. But I can see the rationale, and I'm not going to throw Smith under the bus for this one.
Johan Santana to the Mets for Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber, and Deolis Guerra
Smith was put in an impossible spot here. He had no choices and no leverage. Santana was leaving one way or the other, and had a significant enough no-trade clause to limit Smith's possible trading partners to pretty much just the Mets. So really, Smith's options here are:
- Trade Santana for whatever Minaya will give you
- Keep an obviously upset player and take the comp picks when he walks next year
Keeping him would very possibly pushed the team (destined to finish second with 88 wins) over the 89-win White Sox, but I sure as hell wouldn't have picked our squad to contend in 2008 with or without Santana. Check the following plate appearance numbers and OPS+ for the crappier guys that got significant playing time:
(sidenote: I'd be thrilled if Sexy Lexi puts up a 91 OPS+ this year at SS)
(sidetone the second: Brian Buscher had a 97? Harris 94? Punto 96? We got away with freaking murder in '08)
True, the pitching staff was decent and replacing Livan Hernandez's 139.2 awful IP with a season of Santana would have netted us 4-5 wins most likely. And in retrospect, yeah, I'd take the picks from letting him walk and yet another marginal playoff appearance (hey, playoffs are playoffs). But knowing what Smith knew going into the season -- namely, your starting infield is Mauer/Morneau/Casilla/Everett/Lamb -- I'm rolling the dice on a massively talented raw kid (Gomez), a couple of once highly regarded reclamation projects (Humber/Mulvey), and a young fireballer (Guerra).
Besides, keeping Santana when he clearly didn't want to play here would have made for one hell of a poisonous atmosphere in the clubhouse. I know we all poo-poo that stuff around here more often than not, but I'm comfortable with saying that the FO very likely (and rightly) took that into consideration.
Do I love the trade in retrospect? Of course not. Gomez has yet to adjust to MLB pitching. Mulvey and Humber had almost no value (though Mulvey brought back Rauch, who was very solid for us and dammit I wish we'd kept him for '11), and Guerra is still a question mark at best. And like I said, I'd definitely have taken the playoff spot even if the comp picks had returned nothing of value themselves. But you can't productively evaluate decisions like this in hindsight. Looking at the information available at the time, I was and am comfortable with the Smith's decision to trade Santana to the Mets.
J.J. Hardy to the Orioles for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson
All right, everyone. Hold onto your butts, because there's a truth bomb about to get dropped up in here.
J.J. Hardy was not a very good player for the Twins.
I know, I know. UZR loves his defense. Scouts generally do as well. He had the one good year with the bat. But the guy couldn't stay on the field, and he couldn't hit the baseball when he was.
And you want to pay $6M for a guy who didn't do anything to help your team and you have no guarantees that he's going to bounce back? I dunno, man. The Twins clearly felt like they liked Nishioka and Hardy had been in Gardy's doghouse for months. So Smith flipped him for a couple of hard-throwing bullpen arms to help out a system that doesn't have many left.
Personally, I don't love the deal. I feel like Hardy would have been a decent candidate to bounce back, and more depth at MI is always good. At the same time, if I'm Smith and my coaches tell me this guy doesn't look like he's ready to bounce back, I sure as hell listen to them over random guy blogging about how he likes his numbers.
And honestly, if freeing up that cash opened the door to bringing Pavano back, I'm pretty happy about it.