March 29, 2011

Twins trade Billy Bullock to keep Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond

Some trades seem like good moves, some trades seem like bad moves, and some trades seem like bad moves and don't make much sense. Yesterday's trade with the Braves to retain Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond unfortunately qualifies as the latter, as the Twins swapped a high-upside, hard-throwing reliever prospect in Billy Bullock for a low-90s throwing left-hander who wasn't even protected from the Rule 5 draft and projects as no more than a mid-rotation starter.

In the wake of the deal there are reports about the Twins wanting Diamond so much that they nearly traded up in the Rule 5 draft to make sure they got him and reports about how they've since grown to like him even more this spring. And that's fine. I like Diamond too and when the Twins plucked him from the Braves in the Rule 5 draft four months ago I wrote about him being a nice low-cost pickup for the total investment of just $50,000 and a spot on the MLB roster.

However, the Twins apparently didn't love Diamond enough to give him one the seven spots in their bullpen as a long reliever or mop-up man and because of that were forced to either offer him back to the Braves or work out a separate deal to keep him in the minors outside of the Rule 5 system. They chose to work something out with Atlanta, which is perfectly reasonable in theory, except "something" inexplicably turned out to be a far better prospect than Diamond.

Bullock was the Twins' second-round pick in 2009 and the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder signed for a $533,000 bonus, posting a 3.18 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 108 innings through two seasons while advancing all the way to Double-A as a 22-year-old. He has control problems, but that comes with the mid-90s fastball that made the former University of Florida closer perhaps the hardest-thrower in a farm system perpetually loaded with potential mid-rotation starters.

All offseason the Twins talked of wanting to acquire more big, hard-throwing strikeout pitchers with overpowering raw stuff, yet they traded arguably the best example of that in their entire organization for a mid-rotation starter they already controlled and could have kept for nothing by simply giving him a low-leverage job in a bullpen housing seven relievers. I'm dumbfounded by the move purely on a talent level, but even more so because of the Rule 5 aspect.

Atlanta didn't even deem Diamond worthy of a 40-man roster spot to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in December and he lasted all the way to the Twins with the 27th selection, later going unclaimed on waivers this week, yet the Braves somehow just turned him into a power arm two years removed from being a second rounder. And all because the Twins weren't willing to trust Diamond with a long relief job that would've allowed them to keep him for nothing.

I'm admittedly a bigger Bullock fan than most, viewing him as a potential future closer and the epitome of the type of high-upside arm the Twins should be trying to add while ranking him as the team's No. 10 prospect (whereas Diamond placed No. 36). But clearly I'm not alone, as the Twins liked Bullock enough to spend a second-round pick and $533,000 on him 20 months ago and Baseball America ranked him as the No. 15 prospect in the system, with Diamond at No. 29.

You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who values Diamond higher than Bullock. Except for the Twins, apparently. Yet if they love Diamond that much the Twins could have just stuck him in a low-leverage bullpen role like they did with Johan Santana in 2000. And if they don't love him enough to let Diamond fill one of the seven bullpen jobs at age 24 so they could retain him for nothing, then why trade a high-upside, consensus top-20 prospect for him? I just don't get it.

  • Jbot

    This trade made me cranky at work the entire rest of the day. I’m not a fan of this one bit.

  • Justin

    I dont get it either Gleeman. This just makes absolutely NO Sense. Just throw him in the bullpen to mop up games in the 8th and 9th when we are up or down by 6 or so… why is that so hard?

  • Dan L

    Not a big deal either way.

    There’s every chance that:

    Billy Bullock = Eduardo Morlan = nothing to speak of
    (Morlan’s been such a great prospect for the Rays since he left that they let him go to the Brewers on a minor league deal)

    Let’s not overlook the consistent improvement starting pitchers have when moved into a relief role – Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Brian Duensing are recent examples.

    I think we’re over-valuing relief prospects and overstating the difficulty in finding them. The reaction I’m seeing from people today seems like the fan equivalent of signing a reliever to a 3 year deal.

  • Shane

    I really want to know how this trade negotiation went down. How would Bullock enter into the discussion before a Bashore, Garcia, or Stuifbergen?

    You see, this is why I don’t always agree with the adage “you can never have too much pitching.” I thought that the signing of Hughes was gratuitous and I do think–unfortunately–that either Hughes or Perkins (if not both!) is going to blow up and be unusable for the Twins this year, making Diamond a likely necessity fairly early on. If they wouldn’t have loaded up on pitching and then based roster decisions off of spring (never a good idea), they could have just given the last spot to Diamond and not had to lose a top 20 prospect.

    Maybe the Twins rated Bullock higher than Diamond overall, but in terms of righty fireballers perhaps they put Bullock below Gutierrez and Hoey whereas Diamond is the best lefty not on the MLB roster?

  • Adam

    I don’t get it either, but I guess, for whatever reason, the Twins have soured on Bullock in the last two years. I don’t have the slightest idea why, but the Twins excellent track record in player evaluation (perhaps the best track record in baseball) makes me feel a LITTLE better about this one. Still not happy though…

  • pk

    There’s always more to it than we claim to know. Neither player is likely to much of an impact at the mlb level anytime soon or at all. No sleep lost here.
    I would like to say..on a diffent note, I love the Hughes signing and think used correctly he’ll be very effective. How many nights did he have to go 30-40 pitches one night and do the same the next night just because he appeared as the only capable relieved for the Royals.
    Benefit of doubt in both cases given to twins FO.

  • Brian

    Excellent post, absolutely killed it.

    For those that are hand-waving away the trade as no big deal: its not about the fact that its a minor transaction involving two players unlikely to ever be stars, its about basic player valuation and logical reasoning which the Twins FO has repeatedly failed to demonstrate lately.

    How is a guy that almost every team in baseball passed over TWICE worth a legitimate prospect such as Bullock. Furthermore, as Aaron pointed out, if the Twins do inexplicably value Diamond that highly, they could just put him on the major league roster! Even if hes not quite ready, the minor downgrade from Perkins, or whoever your expendable 7th bullpen arm is, to Diamond is essentially negligible. A prospect as highly rated as Bullock should never enter the conversation.

    And as for the Twins record in player evaluation…it certainly doesn’t match Schuerholz’ and the Braves organization’s record. So, you can’t just fall back on that. As for Dusty Hughes, he sucks. You can’t just make up stuff about him pitching 30-40 pitches back to back nights repeatedly to explain away the fact that he isn’t any good. His game log is right here: http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/players/8581/gamelog;_ylt=AtSvGekXmFVTs5snu6UFCXeFCLcF

  • David

    This trade makes perfect sense from the Twin’s perspective, for two reasons:

    1. The Twins have one–count ‘em, one–left-handed starting prospect among their top 30 prospects as ranked by AG: Pat Dean. The system needs left-handed pitchers.

    2. Billy Bullock has significant control issues–and as we all know, if there’s one thing the Twins value in their pitchers, it’s control.

    That said, does this mean I like the trade? No; I don’t–not because I value Bullock so highly, but because I don’t think Diamond will ever amount to much. Still, I can understand it.

    Just like the Ramos-for-Capps trade, we’ll get over it. And so will the Twins.

  • KC

    2. Billy Bullock has significant control issues–and as we all know, if there’s one thing the Twins value in their pitchers, it’s control.

    If they value control so mch then why did they trade Hardy for Hooey? Another reason this trade makes no sense. Acquire a hard thrower then trade one away??????

  • Amon

    While I do not like this trade and I very much like most of this article, without stating names or having background on the players involved, if you say Team A received a left-hander, who potentially projects as a mid-rotation STARTER from Team B for a high-upside, hard-throwing RELIEVER prospect, I’d want to be Team A every time. So I can understand and agree with Brian’s point, but, like him, also not like the move.

  • Kurt

    Standard Twins. If he throws hard, we gotta deal em! Liriano is next!

  • David

    KC…the Hardy trade was a salary dump, pure and simple. The Twins didn’t want him as their shortstop–especially at $7 million-plus–and the Orioles offer was the best they got. It wasn’t that they were trading FOR Hoey; it was that they were trading AWAY from Hardy.

  • David

    And Kurt…it’s not that the Twins don’t like hard-throwers; it’s that hard throwers with control are a rarity. Given the choice between heat and accuracy (or, put another way, between high-strikeout-high-walks and average-strikeouts-low-walks), the Twins will take the latter every time.

  • liner

    I think if the Twins would have kept Diamond in the rotation (after minimal throwing in spring training), there would have been just as much hand-wringing here.
    I think the biggest disappointment is the Twins failure to negotiate well — should not have had to deal as high as Bullock.
    But… maybe there are things unknown to us… like Punto’s hamstrings…

  • Tom

    Billy Bullocks career WHIP in the minor leagues: 1.46
    Carlos Silvas career WHIP in the major leagues: 1.39

  • Rudy

    I know I am in the minority here, but I am not complaining (but hardly excited). Who is more major league ready: Bullock or Diamond?

    Predicting that Bullock is at least 2 – 3 years away, Look at Gleeman’s Top 40 from 2007 for comparables: http://www.aarongleeman.com/2007_02_18_baseballblog_archive.html

    5 – 15: Swarzak, Casilla, Neshek, Morlan, Sosa, Smit, Benson, Manship, Winfree, Kelly, Lis?????

    I think the Twins just traded for a Plan B (once Slowey/Baker/Liriano/etc are traded) AND Perkins is demoted/traded/released mid-season.

    PS: Given that Bartlett is in San Diego, Garza is in Chicago; makes you wonder if the Rays/Twins would do that trade all over again?

  • Nick

    Wait, wait, wait… Trading Slowey for a bullpen arm is a terrible idea because starting pitching is more valuable than a reliever, but trading Bullock for Diamond is a terrible idea because why exactly?

    The Twins could likely find 3 more Bullocks in the next 3 years by moving some of their failed SP into the bullpen.

  • by jiminy

    We have three starters who can throw 97 mph?

  • Scott

    Question for everyone saying the Twins could have just made Diamond their 7th reliever in order to keep him: (1) did Perkins or Hughes have options left? I thought Perkins did not, and Hughes couldn’t be assigned. (2) How long would Diamond have to stay on the major league roster in order to not have to offer him back to the Braves?

    Yeah, I didn’t like this move either, though. The Twins’ success with Santana might make them think they are Rule 5 geniuses. But Bill Smith hasn’t shown me anything. Twins are winning because of players the prior GM acquired and bc their budget has skyrocketed.

  • Pedro Munoz

    “Twins are winning because of players the prior GM acquired and bc their budget has skyrocketed.”

    Carl Pavano had nothing to do with the Twins winning?

  • ILoveToFart

    People have two problems with this trade — that the Twins gave up the better guy, and that the Twins didn’t have to give up an asset in the first place.

    I understand the first point, though I would give the Twins FO the benefit of the doubt, and agree with the general point that in a vacuum you would a guy that projects as a back-of-the-rotation lefty than a flame-throwing reliever.

    As to the second point: I would bet this is 100% about making sure they have guys they can shuffle up and down when they need fresh arms, and if you keep Diamond as a Rule 5 guy, you lock up that roster spot all year long and lose quite a bit of flexibility. If Diamond is in the pen as a Rule 5 guy, one of Hughes or Manship is in the minors, and you have (by my count) only the Hughes/Manship winner and Slowey with options. That may or may not justify the trade in your mind, but I bet it is what drove the decision to give up an asset rather than just keep Diamond up in the pen.

  • Brad Childress

    The Twins must be as high on Diamond as I was on Tarvaris Jackson.

  • mike wants WINS

    I have no idea which guy is a better pitcher….but it seems odd that so many teams with only 1-2 starters, and few great prospects, passed on this guy if he’s so good. It seems odd that they’d have to give up this much, to keep a guy that 27 or so teams passed on, twice. This is 100% why I don’t really listen to what the Twins say. Their actions and words don’t align, so why listen to them at all?

  • OB

    it seems odd that so many teams with only 1-2 starters, and few great prospects, passed on this guy if he’s so good.

    The taint of being an undrafted free agent signee can cloud judgement.

    We have three starters who can throw 97 mph?

    Holbrooks and Pugh off the top of my head. Tootle, Hoey, and Jacobsen are also power-armed relievers in the org.

  • Josh

    I’m not exactly sold on Diamond, but Bullock doesn’t do a lot for me either. Much as I like having the power arm in the system, if he can’t throw strikes he’s never going to make the Twins MLB roster, so his value declines. I also don’t put huge value on minor league relief prospects.

    I think this comes down to a evaluation thing. The Twins have probably decided that Bullock isn’t going to develop the kind of control they’ll demand, and their initial evaluation of Diamond has them believing that he’ll develop into a solid LH starter and will develop in their program. If their evaluation is right, then the trade is good. If their evaluation is wrong, then this goes badly. Normally, I give the Twins the benefit of the doubt regarding talent development these days (not a lot of misses in the past 5-10 years, right?) but this one is a little tougher to swallow considering how respected talent evaluators and other MLB clubs seem stacked against this move.

    However, at the end of the day, I think it’s a relatively low-risk move.

  • by jiminy

    I’m finding some good reasoning here. For one thing, if they really do see him as a starter, as many have said, keeping him on the major league roster would not work; it would prevent him from getting any work as a starter at all, barring catastrophe. So it’s the minors or nothing — meaning a trade was required to keep him. And as someone said, they have almost no lefty starters in the high minors, which might explain the premium they placed on im. These explanations make sense, if true. If he’s just seen as a reliever, then the price is weirdly high.

  • birdofprey

    Wasn’t Diamond the 12th Rule 5 guy picked? I’m skeptical about this notion that 27 teams decided he wasn’t any good so they passed on him. He cleared waivers at the end of a spring training in which there wasn’t sufficient evidence for teams to judge the risks of claiming him and having to keep him on the roster all season. It’s unfair to paint a picture of a FO that is so incompetent that they fail to see the logic of detractors. Most of the arguments against the trade are logical, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t logic to tha decision. We have less information, right?

    So, when Bullock can’t get his predictable fastball by AAA hitters and washes out, Diamond becomes serviceable once his blister heals. Could that be the judgment of the Twins’ field staff?

  • spoof bonser

    I totally get Gleeman’s point, but I have a hard time getting worked up about it. If Diamond projects as a mid-rotation starter, seems pretty valuable to me.

    Also worth noting, the Twins are favored by most to win the division this year. This move secures the unproven bullpen and shaky backend of the starting rotation, with a serviceable arm and represents the “win now” mentality they should have with guys like Mauer and Morneau in their prime.

    Sure Bullock could develop to be an elite closer some day, but he could also be the next Juan Morillo, and guys like that come and go. In light of the Hardy for Hoey, justifiably brings some questions to mind, but can’t really assume Hoey and Bullock are the same dude with different names, right?

  • Brian

    Minnesota fans don’t demand enough from their sports teams and specifically the front offices. Sure we can just be cheerleaders and give them the benefit of the doubt and not question any of their moves. But I think it is more productive to analyze each move closely, to the best of your knowledge as a fan, without any presumption towards the move being good or bad.

    And in this case, looking at it objectively, it is pretty clear that the Twins gave up more than they needed to, regardless of how highly they value Diamond.

  • OB

    I think it is more productive to analyze each move closely, to the best of your knowledge as a fan, without any presumption towards the move being good or bad.

    Well… consider that Diamond and Bullock are essentially equal FIPwise. Further, note that Diamond has done so while starting AND induces more GBs. I’m thinking that the discrepancy in pedigree between the two is causing the freakout much more than the results.

  • http://weareoffthemark.wordpress.com Bryz

    How many nights did he have to go 30-40 pitches one night and do the same the next night just because he appeared as the only capable relieved for the Royals.

    Umm, never. In 2010, every time he threw at least 40 pitches, he had at least one day off before his next appearance. In most cases, he had anywhere between 3-6 days off before pitching again. (Going through the comments, I see Brian already addressed this.)

    PS: Given that Bartlett is in San Diego, Garza is in Chicago; makes you wonder if the Rays/Twins would do that trade all over again?

    You have to factor in the players the Rays got in return for shipping off Bartlett and Garza. In fact, if you compare the Bartlett trade to the Twins sending Hardy to the Orioles, the Rays got a haul in return.

    We have three starters who can throw 97 mph?

    Pitchers tend to gain velocity by moving to the ‘pen because they don’t have to hold back to conserve stamina for 6+ innings. But yes, the Twins don’t appear to have many starters that could move to the bullpen and suddenly start throwing in the upper 90s.

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    Agree with every point Gleeman makes. This just doesn’t make sense. Might to the Twins, but not to me (p.s.: I’m a big Bullock fan). If the price was Bullock and they wanted Diamond that bad, then Hughes or Manship should be starting the year at AAA, or Perkins gone. See if Diamond could handle the bullpen duties. If not, you lose nothing when you give up on him, if he succeeds, you’re a genius. just. don’t. get it.

  • David

    “…it is pretty clear that the Twins gave up more than they needed to…”

    Oh? So the Braves really wanted Tom Stuifbergen but Smith insisted on giving them a higher-rated prospect? I would think the Twins gave up exactly what they had to–no more, and no less.

    Look, we don’t need to like this trade, but it’s idiotic to assert that the Twins’ FO doesn’t know what it’s doing. Left-handed starters are a lot more valuable than flame-throwing relievers with control issues–especially ones, from the Twins’ standpoint, that can pitch to contact. I’m not saying this is a slam-dunk good trade. All I’m saying is that it makes sense, and isn’t as cut-and-dried in the Braves’ favor as some are making it out to be.

  • birdofprey

    It’s one thing to be perplexed by the deal, like many of us are, including Aaron.

    It’s a whole ‘nother thing to describe the move as stupid. It’s a seemingly strange move, yes. But if you are chastizing the FO for it, you are a know-it-all, pure and simple.

  • Brian

    David,

    Do you have any concept of negotiation/bargaining? I really don’t know how to respond to your hypothetical as its ridiculous. As far as analyzing left-handed starter versus flame-throwing reliever with control issues, thats a little simplistic in my opinion. You have to look at the individual player not the general category they fall into.

    birdofprey,

    Being objective and criticizing a move that you do not agree with is not being a know-it-all, its being a fan. And Aaron clearly thinks its a bad move as well, hes just more diplomatic about it since he is a public figure. I’m just a random on the internet so I can be as critical as I please.

  • Dan L

    Aaron Gleeman is a public-figure?

    That bar just got lowered a couple hundred feet.

  • Brian

    geez. with some of these comments about control problems, you’d think we’d given them Shooter Hunt.

  • ML

    PS: Given that Bartlett is in San Diego, Garza is in Chicago; makes you wonder if the Rays/Twins would do that trade all over again?

    Comment by Rudy — March 29, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    Yeah, I’m sure they hated him pitching a no hitter and are angry about that world series.

    PS: If you are that upset about this move, you need some perspective.

  • LaBombo

    It looks like a disappointing move, but it does little to diminish either my excitement over the successful experimental surgery to remove Nick Punto from Ron Gardenhire’s hip, or the cautious optimistism generated by reports that Morneau’s melon will apparently stay attached to his body while performing acts of baseball.

    There’s inevitable, understandable frustration from the fan base when the front office admits that a 2nd round pick from just 2 years ago is worth less to the organization than a guy whose upside is probably a poor man’s Brian Duensing. Or worth less than Glen Perkins, who is sort of an aging, grumpy Scott Diamond.

    But give Bill Smith a break. He’s had a busy winter, replacing the used domestic Punto with a shinier, faster Japanese import Punto. And throwing last-day-on-the-job parties for pretty much the entire bullpen. And making daily goat sacrifices to the deities of elbow and brain health.

    So it’s been a tough winter for the man, but don’t worry; even if you’re puzzled by some front office decisions, the organization is still well on its way to achieving the perennial goal of narrowly reaching the first round of the playoffs and then being clubbed like a baby seal. Go Twins!