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.

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