Since taking over for Terry Ryan two off-seasons ago, I've been critical of Bill Smith. I wasn't a huge fan of the Delmon Young trade, mainly because of the inclusion of Jason Bartlett, and I've been against pretty much every other decision he made prior to this off-season. The fact is, Smith had very little success in the prior two off-seasons. While not every move is going to work out over time, the problem I had with most of the moves was that even at the time he made them they were poor decisions. The Adam Everett and Mike Lamb signings didn't appear as terrible as they ended up being, but the fact that they failed miserably only added to his failures.
However, Smith deserves plenty of praise for this off-season. Since signing Miguel Angel Sano, the top international prospect available, in September Smith has been on a roll. Offering Carl Pavano arbitration was understandable and something I certainly would have done, although the $7MM he's owed likely would have been a better risk on Rich Harden or Ben Sheets. Pavano comes with enough injury risks where he isn't going to certainly give the Twins 175 innings, so it likely would have been wiser to put the risk on someone who has the potential to anchor the staff.
That said, getting Pavano on a 1-year, $7MM deal is hardly a bad move, and considering Pavano accepted arbitration when most people didn't expect him to, I don't blame Bill Smith. Had Pavano declined arbitration, the Twins very well may have targeted Harden or Sheets, although Harden did sign before Pavano accepted the Twins arbitration offer. Pavano is certainly a better bet to pitch well than Jarrod Washburn, so it could certainly have been worse.
I liked the JJ Hardy-Carlos Gomez swap, although not as much as most fans. Gomez is an extremely valuable player if used correctly, but as Gardenhire showed last year he has no idea how valuable Gomez can be and likely would have remained as the fourth outfielder this year. For that reason, trading someone who likely would have been used as a fourth outfielder for an above average starting caliber shortstop was a no-brainer.
Offering Jarrod Washburn $5MM was a poor decision but Washburn's decision to pass on the offer saved the Twins from that mistake, and allowed them to keep money handy for what I think will be the two best moves Bill Smith has made since becoming GM.
The first was signing Jim Thome to a one year, $1.25MM contract with $750K in possible incentives. While seen as nothing more than a bench upgrade with a veteran who is past his prime, the fact is Thome has a lot left to offer if used correctly and he will be an important player to have around when Delmon Young inevitably fails to live up to expectations.
The second was also the most recent. Signing Orlando Hudson to a one-year, $5MM contract was something I'd been begging for Smith to do basically all off-season, so needless to say I give it an A+. Gardy's need to have a middle infielder hit second in the lineup has hurt the team in the past, but Hudson actually is fairly close to an ideal number two hitter. He hits into too many double plays, which may be a problem at times, but his on-base percentage has been over .350 for each of the last four seasons. Putting an on-base machine in between Denard Span and Joe Mauer should make the Twins lineup that much more potent, and thanks to Washburn's poor decision to turn down $5MM the Twins instead were able to add Orlando Hudson who is a much bigger need for this team and honestly a much better fit.
I've been incredibly hard on Bill Smith, and if he continues to make poor decisions I definitely won't be afraid to criticize him again, but the fact is every decision he made this off-season was logical. Even if the moves don't work out, Smith doesn't deserve much criticism because all he can do is make what appear to be the right decisions to improve the team. For the first time in his tenure, Smith did that, and I'm more than willing to give him credit for a fantastic off-season. It doesn't hurt that the Twins were able to move their payroll to $96MM, but the money they added actually was spent wisely and makes the Twins the division favorites for this coming season. Now simply finalize the Joe Mauer extension, and Bill Smith, I will officially thank you for a great off-season.