But the decision to bring back Terry Ryan, who previously served as GM from 1994-2007, proved that the Twins still valued their commitment to continuity.
Ryan, 58, spent the previous four years as a scout and senior adviser to Smith, and although he never thought he'd be back as a GM after stepping down in '07, he was ready to take on the challenge to help reverse the fortunes of a club that lost 99 games last year.
"Obviously, some things happened last year that we didn't ever imagine with the type of year we had [in 2010]," Ryan said. "I was very happy doing what I was doing, working in the Minor Leagues, the amateur world and the international world and a lot of the Draft stuff and affiliates. So I was busy. And so up until November, I had no clue this might happen, but it did, unfortunately for some people involved. And so here I am. I'm very familiar with many things that go on here."
During Ryan's first tenure as GM, the Twins won four American League Central titles (2002-04, '06) while becoming one of baseball's model small-market franchises.
But as Ryan points out, Smith kept that success going by winning division titles in '09-10, and just narrowly missing out on the postseason in '08, when they lost a one-game tiebreaker to the White Sox.
But last year, due to a combination of injuries and poor play all around, the Twins plummeted to the worst record in the American League. It came despite setting a club record with an Opening Day payroll at about $115 million, due to the revenue provided by the move to Target Field in '10.
That led to the dismissal of Smith, but much to Ryan's approval, Smith returned in a new role as assistant to the president and general manager in mid-December. One of his main tasks is working to improve the club's Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
"I was certainly hoping he'd be back here because I'm not as adept at some of the things he's good at," Ryan said. "There are a lot of organizations where that wouldn't happen and it wouldn't work. But at this organization, we've had a lot of stability. Nobody leaves here on bad terms for the most part."
That stability also rings true in regards to the manager, as the Twins have only had two skippers dating back to 1986. Tom Kelly served as manager from 1986-2001, leading the club to World Series titles in '87 and '91, before handing over the reins to Ron Gardenhire, who has won six division titles since taking over in '02.
So while Gardenhire was also surprised by the decision to make a change at the top of the organization to bring back Ryan, he was also pleased to see his former GM back in that same role.
"I was really happy to know Terry was taking over, let's put it that way, because I've been with him and he understands me and I understand him," Gardenhire said. "And I know what he expects of me and he gave me my opportunity, I worked with him for quite a few years around here and he makes it pretty easy for you. If he's got something to say, he's going to say it."
Ryan is regarded as a top talent evaluator, and has spent more than 28 years in the Twins organization as a Minor League player or executive.
He remained fully plugged into the Twins organization during his four years as senior advisor, but admitted he spent more time on the Minor League side than he did watching the big league club.
Ryan said he's probably only been to about 15 games at Target Field, but will be at every home game this season. He'll also split time on the road with assistant GM Rob Antony, and when he's not watching the Twins at away games, he'll be at Minor League games.
He'll also play a prominent role with June's First-Year Player Draft, along with scouting director Deron Johnson and vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff.
"This Draft in 2012 is going to have a huge impact on our organization," Ryan said. "That No. 2 pick is going to be vital to us, but I think we have five of the top 72 picks, which is something we need to take advantage of. We need to replenish the system, but we're not barren by any stretch. I think we're ranked in the middle of the pack by periodicals that do that kind of research and I would suspect that's pretty close."
Ryan said he's comfortable being back in the GM chair and that the biggest changes he's encountered since his return have been the new technologies used by the media, such as Twitter, as well as the club's move to Target Field.
The move to Target Field from the Metrodome has helped increase the payroll over the years, as the current payroll is at about $100 million, while the largest payroll during his first go-round as GM was at about $64 million in '06.
But he added the one thing that hasn't changed is his commitment to helping build a playoff-caliber roster.
"We're trying to a win a division," Ryan said. "There's no other way around it. Every team out there is trying to win their division and get to the postseason, and that's what we're trying to do. We have our work cut out for us and we know that. But it can be done."