Bill Smith on Trial

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Hear ye, hear ye. The Supreme Court of Puckett’s Pond is now in session. The case on the docket today is People v. Bill Smith. Mr. Smith is charged with the crime of making a series of poor personnel decisions that have destroyed the Twins 2011 season and seriously impaired the organization’s future. How does the defense plead?

DEFENSE: Not guilty, your honor.

Then we’ll let the Prosecution open this up by listing the charges.

The Prosecution’s Case

Exhibit A: on November 28, 2007, Bill Smith willfully traded Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, and Brendan Harris. Garza and Bartlett solidified a terrible Rays team that reached the World Series the next year. Meanwhile, Harris, a career journeyman before joining the Twins, was inept both in the field and at the plate. Young spent four seasons teasing fans with vast power potential that was never realized and annoying them with his questionable fielding.

Exhibit B: on February 2, 2008, the defendant traded Mr. Johan Santana to the New York Mets for Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, and Kevin Mulvey. Less than four years later, only Guerra remains in the Twins organization, and Guerra has a 5.58 ERA in the minor leagues since the trade. The Twins almost certainly would have received better compensation through draft picks if they had allowed Santana to leave via free agency the next year. Not only that, but please allow me to remind the Court that the 2008 Twins lost the AL Central by only one game, despite a young and untested rotation. Had Santana remained with the team, the Twins might have made the playoffs that year.

Exhibit C: on February 12, 2008, the defendant signed Livan Hernandez to a $5 million contract. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is a pitcher whose fastball reached 85 mph on a good day. His best pitch was an eephus pitch. That’s right: an eephus pitch! Hernandez was released by the Twins that July due to a 5.29 ERA and a pitiful 47 strikeouts in 127 innings.

Exhibit D: the defendant has signed a cavalcade of washed up veterans to fill vital spots, including Craig Monroe, Adam Everett, and Mike Lamb. These signings failed miserably.

Exhibit E: on July 29, 2010, the defendant sent top catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Washington Nationals for reliever Matt Capps. Capps pitched competently in August and September of 2010, but he has been an expensive disaster at $7.5 million this season. And the departure of Ramos, combined with Joe Mauer’s injuries, has forced the Twins to use Drew Butera as the primary catcher this season. This qualifies as a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

Exhibit F: in December of 2010, the defendant traded JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris to the Orioles for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. He followed this up by paying $5 million, plus $3 million per year for three years, to Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. This move exposes a glaring failure of the team’s scouting system, and a careless disregard to the state of the middle infield. Don’t get us wrong – we’re very happy that Harris is gone. But the loss of Hardy was a disaster.

Exhibit G: this spring, the defendant sent promising relief pitching prospect Billy Bulluck to the Braves for Scott Diamond. It is too early to fully judge the results of this trade, but the prosecution would like to note for the record that it displays a lack of judgment indicative of the defendant’s overall character.

Exhibit H: the defendant completely failed to add any depth to the 2011 roster. Thus, when injuries hit the team hard, they were forced to play replacement level players on a regular basis. The bullpen in particular was robbed by Mr. Smith. Though he was quite willing to spend $7 million on Capps, he let Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (who cost about the same amount combined) leave for other teams.

Your honor, the prosecution rests its case.

The Case for the Defense

Hindsight is 20/20. It is one thing for fans, sportswriters, and fictional prosecuting attorneys to criticize a GM’s moves years after the fact. It’s quite another to actually be the person responsible for those moves. Yes, some of my client’s decisions have turned out badly. But the defendant is a competent General Manager, and he has the intelligence and decision making skills to restore this team to glory.

The defense pleads guilty to Hernandez. It’s impossible to mount a coherent defense for that move.

My client thought we were getting a superstar in Young. If you recall, many fans were very excited about the move at the time. Besides, if he hadn’t made that move, the Twins would not have exciting young reliever Lester Oliveros now!

Guerra may yet develop into a reliable relief pitcher. Also, keep in mind that Santana has been bothered by injuries and reduced effectiveness since arriving in New York. His numbers were declining before the trade (his ERA, WHIP, and K/9 IP were all noticeably worse in 2007 than the years before). We had to take what we could get for him. And Humber has been successful as a starter – albeit with the White Sox, not the Twins.

My client feels that Capps helped win the division for the Twins in 2010. True, the team ended up winning by 6 games, a margin that probably was too big to have anything to do with the closer. But would you want to go to the playoffs with Jon Rauch as your closer? I mean, just look at him! He’s freakishly tall and has strange tattoos on his neck. Capps is much less weird looking.

As for the charge about the lack of depth – that is unfair. As this website has already noted, the Twins suffered an epidemic of injuries beyond what any reasonable GM could have expected. Please note that my client did re-sign Carl Pavano, who has been the only reliable starter this season.

And Mr. Smith has made a lot of positive moves for this organization, particularly in the midst of tight division races when it was necessary to improvise quick fixes. The prosecution belittles the Capps deal, but my client also signed Brian Fuentes, who was a very effective reliever for the Twins in 2010. So was Rauch, who Mr. Smith acquired the year before right about the same time he brought in Orlando Cabrera, a key component of the drive to Game 163 in 2009. He also got Pavano for a pittance by trading away washed up prospect Yohan Pino. And Jim Thome, who provided so many memorable moments for Twins fans. Finally, my client went above and beyond this organization’s traditional approach by spending a record amount of money to sign Dominican prospect Miguel Sano. Let the record state that Sano is currently the brightest prospect in the organization, and its greatest hope for the future.

THE VERDICT

The Court of Puckett’s Pond finds the defendant guilty as charged. The Court recognizes the good work that the defendant has done in acquiring Thome, Pavano, Cabrera, and Sano. And it agrees that some of the criticism directed at the defendant is motivated by anger and shock at the team’s unexpected losing season.

However, we have no choice but to convict Mr. Smith for the egregious trades that he has inflicted upon the Minnesota sports community. Yes, it is far easier to criticise in hindsight than it is to make challenging decisions. But General Managers are supposed to be able to make those tough decisions correctly the first time. And the Defendant’s good works do not compensate for the fact that he traded the best pitcher in the game for four worthless prospects, or the particularly galling loss of Garza and Bartlett. The Ramos and Hardy deals were the final smoking guns. It would be unconscionable for any judge or jury to let this defendant off the hook after those crimes against the Twins.

We sentence Bill Smith to be fired as General Manager of the Minnesota Twins. This Court recommends that the Twins carry out the sentence immediately (despite the recent statements by the team owner). This is the only way that the team may hire a new GM and begin the plethora of transactions it needs to prepare for 2012.

Court is adjourned.

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Tags: Delmon Young Drew Butera Jason Bartlett Johan Santana Livan Hernandez Matt Capps Matt Garza Scott Diamond Wilson Ramos

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