Given the poor state of the Twins' offense, I'm rather amazed by how many cheaply available hitters Terry Ryan has failed to take a flyer on this year. Many argue that Ryan has been right to hold onto his pitching prospects, waiting for the right deal to arise before parting with the organization's valuable young arms. While that's a defensible position, there is really no defending the fact that Ryan has missed out on several players this year that were obtained for peanuts by other teams.
Example A: Jack Cust. Cust is a guy who has been posting good power numbers in Triple-A for six years, but for various reasons he never got more than a cup of tea in the majors. When Mike Piazza got hurt earlier in the season, the Athletics were in need of a DH, so Billy Beane nabbed Cust from the Padres for a player to be named later. Since joining the A's, Cust has been a power machine in the DH spot, batting .272/.408/.541 with 20 home runs and 63 RBI in 280 at-bats. Here's a guy that would have been a massive upgrade for the Twins at a position of extreme weakness, and Ryan could have had him for essentially nothing if he had been a little more proactive in trying to improve the team.
Example B: Wily Mo Pena. The Nationals brought in the 25-year-old less than a week ago after he had been waived by the Red Sox. All the Nats had to give up for Pena was -- you guessed it -- a player to be named later. (The PTBNL ended up being Emiliano Fruto, a nondescript pitching prospect). Pena isn't much of a fielder, but he has a big power swing and many scouts believe that he has 30-40 home run potential. Plus, he's right-handed. Pena has played only three games since joining the Nationals, but he's already ripped a double and two homers.
Example C: Jack Hannahan. Hannahan's situation is similar to Cust's in that he was stuck in Triple-A despite posting good numbers there. This season, Hannahan was hitting .295/.422/.476 with Detroit's Triple-A affiliate, but the infielder was blocked by the likes of Brandon Inge and Placido Polanco. The Athletics acquired Hannahan from the Tigers, giving up a 27-year-old minor-league outfielder named Jason Perry in the deal. Hannahan's prime position is third base, and he's even a Minnesota boy (he attended high school at Cretin Derham Hall, same as Joe Mauer). Hannahan might have been a little tougher to acquire than the two I previously mentioned, but it's another guy that the Twins probably could have gotten without needing to give up a whole lot. In his first eight games with Oakland, Hannahan has posted an .825 OPS. He's collected four extra-base hits in 25 at-bats, which is the same number Nick Punto has in his last 35 games.
The important thing to note about all of this is that neither Washington nor Oakland are really involved in a playoff race. The Nats are 15 games out of first place in the NL East, and the A's are 12 games behind the Angels in the AL West. Yet, Bowden and Beane are still trying to improve their clubs, both now and in the future. They recognize that picking up cheap, talented players like Cust and Pena and Hannahan without giving up much value are low-risk moves, and good bets to help their team now and in the future. Why don't we ever see Ryan making a move like this? The best he can do is trade for veteran retreads like Phil Nevin and Bret Boone, who have little chance of helping the club in the present and almost no chance of helping in the future.
Ryan has done nothing to improve the Twins' miserable offense this season, and as these other general managers are proving, it's not because there aren't viable options available.