July 10, 2013

Old friends in new places: Catching up with former Twins pitchers

nathan liriano crain

I've been getting lots of e-mails, comments, and tweets about seven former Twins being named All-Stars and ex-Twins in general thriving for other teams, so let's examine that notion. Like all teams the Twins cycle through tons of players every season, making it impossible to keep close tabs on everyone, but I've tried to narrow things down a bit by focusing on relatively prominent and/or oft-discussed players who departed the organization within the past handful of seasons.

Even then the list is a very long one, so today let's stick to the ex-Twins pitchers ...

Joe Nathan: By declining a $12.5 million option the Twins made Nathan a free agent after 2011 and he signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract with the Rangers. At the time it would have been tough to justify a big two-year deal for a 37-year-old reliever still rounding back into shape after elbow surgery and his departure led to Glen Perkins emerging as closer, but Nathan has been amazing in Texas with a 2.25 ERA and 120/23 K/BB ratio in 104 innings.

Francisco Liriano: Traded to the White Sox in mid-2012 for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez as an impending free agent, Liriano wasn't much good down the stretch and then signed a two-year deal with the Pirates that was later reworked due to an offseason injury. He's been brilliant for the Pirates with a 2.20 ERA and 74/27 K/BB ratio in 70 innings, relying on his fastball less than ever before.

R.A. Dickey: Dickey spent a thoroughly unmemorable 2009 season in Minnesota, serving as a mop-up reliever for 64 innings before refusing an assignment to the minors and leaving as a free agent. There was nothing promising about his performance, which included a 4.62 ERA and 40/32 K/BB ratio, and the Twins were hesitant to even use the knuckleballer with men on base. He inked a minor-league deal with the Mets at age 35 ... and turned into a Cy Young winner.

Matt Guerrier: Guerrier exited as a free agent following the 2010 season for a three-year $12 million deal with the Dodgers after seven seasons in Minnesota. At the time Guerrier was 32 years old and showing obvious signs of decline, so the decision to let him walk was a sound one. He's struggled with injuries while posting a 4.20 ERA and was recently designated for assignment with a half-season left on the three-year deal, going to the Cubs in a swap of unwanted contracts.

Jesse Crain: Crain followed Guerrier out the door after 2010, signing a three-year, $13 million deal with the White Sox. Despite a modest strikeout rate of 6.2 per nine innings he threw 382 innings with a 3.42 ERA in seven seasons in Minnesota, but Crain has racked up 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 2.10 ERA in 150 innings for the White Sox. At the time I'd have re-signed Crain over Guerrier, but didn't blame the Twins for avoiding a three-year deal.

Scott Baker: Baker missed all of 2012 following elbow surgery and then became a free agent when the Twins declined his $9.25 million option. They wanted to re-sign him to a cheaper deal, but balked when Baker refused to include a team option for 2014. He ended up signing with the Cubs for $5.5 million plus some incentives and has yet to pitch. Meanwhile, the Twins spent $4 million on a different pitcher coming off elbow surgery and Mike Pelfrey has a 5.63 ERA.

Matt Capps: Capps went from making a combined $12 million as the Twins' closer in 2011 and 2012 to not even being able to get an MLB contract this offseason, settling for a minor-league deal with the Indians. Overall in two-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota he threw 122 innings with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, for which the Twins parted with the Nationals' starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, and $14 million while also forfeiting a compensatory draft pick.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey's status a solid mid-rotation starter from 2007-2010 unraveled when he got pushed out of the rotation in 2011. Slowey didn't want to be in the bullpen, pitching horribly and getting injured, and the Twins did their best to tear him down while the local media was all too willing to lend a hand. He was traded to the Rockies for a non-prospect, missed most of 2012, and has returned the majors with a 3.99 ERA and 72/18 K/BB ratio for the Marlins.

Jose Mijares: Cut loose after 2011 because the Twins decided a 27-year-old reliever with a 3.16 career ERA wasn't worth paying $750,000 via arbitration, Mijares wound up signing with the Royals for more money and then moved on to the Giants. Since leaving the Twins he has a 2.51 ERA and 88/30 K/BB ratio in 86 innings and still hasn't made more than $1.8 million in a season. Dropping him made little sense to me then and is certainly even more regrettable now.

Jason Marquis: Marquis was as awful as a pitcher can be after signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Twins last offseason, starting seven games with an 8.47 ERA and more walks than strikeouts while allowing opponents to hit .371 before they released him in late May. He quickly latched on with San Diego, where he pitched well and then re-signed for this season at $3 million. Overall for the Padres he's thrown 201 innings with a 3.90 ERA.

Carl Pavano: Pavano had a good two-and-a-half season run for the Twins, but fell apart last year while unsuccessfully trying to pitch through a shoulder injury. He was finally shut down in June with a 6.00 ERA and didn't throw another pitch, leaving as a free agent. Pavano was looking for work as a back-of-the-rotation starter this offseason when he fell while shoveling snow and ruptured his spleen. He won't pitch this season and at age 37 might be done.

Pat Neshek: Waived by the Twins in the spring of 2011 after struggling to come back from elbow surgery, Neshek was claimed by the Padres and split that season between Triple-A and San Diego with mediocre results. Last year he toiled away at Triple-A for Baltimore before a trade to Oakland, where Neshek has thrived again with a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings. There was really no good reason for the Twins to cut bait on Neshek, who now has a 2.91 career ERA in seven seasons.

Craig Breslow: Breslow was a shrewd waiver wire pickup by the Twins in mid-2008, but after pitching well for 39 innings that season he struggled in early 2009 and they waived him. Not only was it an overreaction to a small sample of bad work, Breslow was cut loose so the Twins could call up a different left-handed reliever, Sean Henn, who lasted all of 11 innings for them. Since being lost on waivers Breslow has thrown 280 innings with a 2.93 ERA.

Jon Rauch: Rauch was briefly the Twins' closer in 2010, filling in fairly well for a rehabbing Nathan by converting 21 of 25 saves with a 3.05 ERA. He lost the job when the Twins decided they had to overpay for a so-called "proven closer" in Capps and then left as a free agent that offseason, signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Rauch was decent in 2011 and 2012, posting a 4.12 ERA in 110 innings, but struggled this season and was recently released by two teams.

Billy Bullock: Back in 2011 the Twins picked Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 draft, didn't want to keep him in the majors all year, and traded Bullock to the Braves for the right to send Diamond to the minors. I hated the deal at the time, because Bullock was a hard-throwing second-round pick and the Twins could have just kept Diamond as a mop-up man for nothing in return, but Bullock never harnessed his raw stuff and got released this month. Diamond has a 4.32 career ERA.

Alex Burnett: For three seasons the Twins stuck with Burnett in their bullpen despite an increasingly poor performance, only to waive him this spring for no pressing reason. In the four months since then Burnett has been claimed three times off waivers, going from the Twins to the Blue Jays to the Orioles to the Cubs. Most recently he passed through waivers unclaimed and is now at Triple-A for the Cubs.

Philip Humber: Acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana trade, Humber never made a start for the Twins and appeared in just 13 total games before leaving as a minor league free agent. He had a good run for the White Sox in 2011 and threw a perfect game in April of 2012, but overall since leaving the Twins he has a 5.28 ERA in 322 innings. Humber is currently at Triple-A for the Astros after passing through waivers unclaimed.

Jeff Gray: Gray won a spot in the Opening Day bullpen last year despite a lengthy track record of mediocrity and remained there for most of the season despite a 5.71 ERA and 26/22 K/BB ratio in 52 innings. When the Twins finally came to their senses and waived Gray he went unclaimed by the other 29 teams, became a free agent, and signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox. He's spent all of this season at Triple-A.

Jim Hoey: Back in 2010 the Twins traded Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy and then a year later they traded Hardy for Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Whatever you thought of the Gomez-for-Hardy swap the Hardy-for-Hoey trade was a terrible, misguided idea that looks even worse now. Hoey threw 25 awful innings for the Twins, who lost him for nothing on waivers a year after the trade, and Jacobson was released from Double-A. Hoey is now playing independent ball.

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January 9, 2013

Twins Notes: Goin, Tosoni, Harden, Bullock, Diamond, and Liriano

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily interviewed Twins manager of major league administration and baseball research Jack Goin for a glimpse into the team's use of statistical analysis. Hageman co-hosted this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we discussed that topic quite a bit. Short version? While it's nice to see the Twins get more involved in statistical analysis my sense remains that they're merely dipping their toes in the water while other teams are swimming.

Rene Tosoni, who the Twins dropped from the 40-man roster in August, has signed with the Brewers on a minor-league contract. Tosoni cracked my annual ranking of Twins prospects at No. 11 in 2010 and No. 14 in 2011, but he was sidetracked by injuries and then basically just stopped hitting. Now he's a 26-year-old corner outfielder who struggled in 60 games for the Twins in 2011 and hit just .224/.293/.315 in 81 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Clete Thomas, who briefly filled a bench spot while the Twins kept Ben Revere at Triple-A for a bit longer, has re-signed on a minor-league deal. Thomas struck out 16 times in 28 at-bats for the Twins and hit just .232/.281/.405 with a 109-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 109 games at Triple-A, so despite his big-league experience the 29-year-old outfielder now looks like little more than depth for Rochester.

• After appearing on "Gleeman and The Geek" two weeks ago Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com did some digging and found that Rich Harden's minor-league contract with the Twins includes a July 31 opt-out clause. As far as opt-out clauses go that's a very late one, so if he doesn't look to be at full strength in spring training the Twins can stash Harden at Triple-A for a while and that makes what was already a worthwhile, low-risk flier look even better.

• Free agent Brett Myers was linked to the Twins by various sources throughout December, but ended up signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Indians that includes an $8 million team option for 2014. And according to Wolfson the Twins never even made him an offer, which has become a familiar story this offseason and makes Kevin Correia's two-year, $10 million deal all the more confusing.

• And speaking of the Indians, they're the latest mid-market team to secure a new local television deal that significantly surpasses the Twins' current contract with FOX Sports North.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPN New York and had an interesting little note related to the Twins, reporting that they would have taken Jefry Marte from the Mets with the No. 4 pick in the Rule 5 draft had Ryan Pressly of the Red Sox not been available. Marte is a 21-year-old third baseman who hit just .251/.322/.366 at Double-A last season and was not selected by another team, with the Mets later trading him to the A's for Collin Cowgill.

Billy Bullock, the 2009 second-round pick traded to the Braves for the ability to stash Scott Diamond at Triple-A as a Rule 5 pick, was suspended 50 games for a "drug of abuse." He still throws hard with lots of strikeouts, but Bullock's control is awful and he's no longer a prospect at age 24. I hated that trade at the time and it's worked out very well for the Twins, although I still think they should have just kept Diamond as a long reliever and kept Bullock.

• On a related note, Diamond underwent minor elbow surgery to remove a bone chip and should be ready for spring training, but he won't pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

• In looking over Mike Pelfrey's career it struck me how amazing his draft class ended up being. Pelfrey was the No. 9 pick out of Wichita State and among the players selected ahead of him were Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Zimmerman. But wait, there's more. Other top-30 picks included Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Cameron Maybin, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus, and Matt Garza, who the Twins took No. 25. That's crazy.

Jeff Clement was the No. 3 pick in that same draft--between Gordon and Zimmerman--and after hitting just .218/.277/.371 in 152 games for the Mariners and Pirates he'll likely spend this season at Triple-A for the Twins.

• After spending nearly all of last season in the Twins' bullpen despite adding to his lengthy track record of mediocrity with a 5.71 ERA and 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings Jeff Gray was dropped from the 40-man roster in late August. He went unclaimed on waivers, became a free agent, and agreed to a minor-league deal with the White Sox.

Kiley McDaniel, who formerly worked for several MLB teams, recently watched Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton play instructional league games and wrote very detailed, interesting scouting reports for Fan Graphs.

Francisco Liriano's two-year, $12.75 million deal with the Pirates is in jeopardy because of an offseason injury to his non-throwing arm.

• An oral history of Nick Punto sliding into first base is the best thing you'll read today.

• Podcast listeners who enjoy when we're interrupted by a drunk person will absolutely love this week's episode, and there's also some good Twins talk about how the roster is shaping up.

June 12, 2012

Real, fluke, or something in between: How good is Scott Diamond?

I liked the Twins' decision to pluck Scott Diamond from the Braves' farm system in the Rule 5 draft, writing at the time that "he's had success at every level" and "may be able to find success in the big leagues without missing a ton of bats" because he "has done a tremendous job inducing ground balls and limiting homers" in the minors. That was December of 2010 and later that offseason I ranked Diamond as the 36th-best prospect in the Twins' farm system.

I hated the Twins' decision to trade Billy Bullock to the Braves for Diamond to circumvent the stipulation that Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to their old team. It seemed silly to give up Bullock, a hard-throwing reliever drafted in the second round and given a $533,000 bonus just a year earlier, when the Twins already had Diamond and could have retained him simply by keeping him on the roster as a long reliever at age 24.

Diamond ended up spending nearly the entire second half of last year in the majors anyway, meaning the Twins basically traded Bullock for the ability to keep him in the minors for an extra three months. And in those three months Diamond had a 5.56 ERA at Triple-A, so it wasn't surprising when the left-hander struggled in his first taste of the big leagues with a 5.08 ERA and ugly 19-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings while allowing opponents to hit .317.

Bullock had issues of his own following the trade with a 4.44 ERA and 34 walks in 51 innings at Double-A, but he still threw in the mid-90s and still racked up 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings while holding opponents to a .199 batting average. Bullock continued to look like a potential late-inning reliever, Diamond continued to look like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, and the Twins' thought process behind the trade continued to make little sense to me.

Despite making seven starts for the Twins down the stretch last season Diamond was never in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot this season, getting sent back to Triple-A as part of the first round of spring training cuts. He fared well in Rochester with a 2.60 ERA in six starts, but also allowed opponents to hit .270 and managed an unimpressive 26 strikeouts in 35 innings as a 25-year-old spending his third consecutive season at Triple-A.

When injuries and ineffectiveness wrecked the Twins' rotation for a second straight year they again turned to Diamond, calling him up on May 5. In returning to the majors Diamond brought with him a 4.50 ERA in 39 total Triple-A starts, which along with his modest 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings there and the equally modest fastball velocity he showed in debuting last season seemingly provided little reason for optimism.

And so naturally six weeks later Diamond has a 1.61 ERA through seven starts.

You can call it fluky or lucky or unsustainable or maybe even none of the above, but obviously Diamond isn't going to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA for very long. However, in watching Diamond's seven starts this season compared to his seven starts last season it's just as obvious that he looks like a much different pitcher. Looks can be deceiving, of course, but a deeper inspection of his numbers also shows significant improvement along with some good fortune:

YEAR     PA     SO%    BB%    HR%     GB%     LD%     BIP     LOB
2011    181    10.5    9.3    1.7    46.2    21.0    .338    67.4
2012    183    15.3    2.2    2.2    61.7    20.8    .308    82.6

Diamond faced 181 batters last year and has faced 183 batters this year, so while small the sample size is equal. He's gone from as many walks (17) as strikeouts (19) to a 28-to-4 ratio, increasing his strikeouts by 46 percent and decreasing his walks by 76 percent. He's allowed the same number of line drives and actually given up more homers, but Diamond's ground-ball rate went from neutral at 46 percent to among the league leaders at 62 percent.

He's also seen his luck even out a bit, as his batting average on balls in play went from .338 to a more typical .308 and his percentage of runners stranded on base went from slightly worse than average at 67 percent to substantially better than average at 83 percent. In his second go-around as a major leaguer Diamond's pitching and luck have both improved dramatically, although what he's thrown and how he's thrown it haven't changed all that much:

YEAR     PA     FB%     MPH     CB%     MPH     CH%     MPH
2011    181    58.4    88.9    27.7    79.9    14.0    83.0
2012    183    63.2    89.6    27.8    81.2     8.9    83.9

Compared to last year Diamond has cut down on his changeup in order to throw eight percent more fastballs while utilizing his curveball the same amount. He's added around one mile per hour to each of his three pitches, but Diamond's average fastball still clocks in at just 89.6 mph to rank 131st out of the 168 pitchers with 30 or more innings this season. His repertoire has been pretty similar, with a few tweaks, and the per-pitch results are also similar within that:

YEAR     PA    STR%    ZON%    1PS%    SWG%    MIS%
2011    181    63.3    49.4    59.5    45.9    15.9
2012    183    65.6    51.8    61.1    44.3    13.0

Diamond has gotten slightly more strikes, thrown slightly more pitches in the strike zone, and jumped ahead of batters with first-pitch strikes slightly more often, but all three of those rates are within a couple percentage points of last season and he's actually induced slightly fewer swings and slightly fewer misses than in 2011. Add it all up and Diamond's results are vastly improved, but his raw stuff and general approach haven't changed a ton.

That could mean he's simply learned to make better pitches, which would obviously be a good thing, but it could also mean he's been fortunate that pitches thrown at roughly the same velocity and roughly the same frequency have created far better results. There's no doubt that Diamond has looked and pitched better, but exactly how much better and the sustainability of his improvement is an interesting question that will require more than 14 starts to answer.

For now I'm cautiously optimistic that Diamond can be a solid third or fourth starter, although admittedly fifth starter was more likely based on his track record prior to rejoining the Twins last month. He throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground, which is a great foundation for success, and if Diamond can maintain any kind of decent strikeout rate he could be part of the Twins' rotation for a long time. Or at least long enough to make everyone forget Bullock.

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April 25, 2011

Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you

Catching up with old friends in new places ...

Matt Guerrier signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers and got off to a great start in Los Angeles with 11 straight scoreless innings before coughing up five runs Saturday. Guerrier has filled largely the same role with the Dodgers that he did with the Twins, working the seventh and eighth innings setting up closer Jonathan Broxton while recording more than three outs in five of his first 10 appearances.

Brian Fuentes has been filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey as the A's closer, converting six of seven save chances with a 4.09 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings. He was unable to find a full-time closing opportunity as a free agent and settled for a two-year, $10.5 million deal at age 35. Bailey is due back early next month, at which point Fuentes will slide into a setup role alongside former Twin and original AG.com favorite, Grant Balfour.

Jon Rauch also stumbled into a brief stint filling in as Toronto's closer with Frank Francisco sidelined to begin the season. Just as he did for the Twins last year Rauch did a perfectly solid job in the role, converting all three save chances before Francico returned 18 games in, and he has a 2.25 ERA and 6-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings overall. Dating back to last year Rauch has converted 24-of-28 saves with a 2.98 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 66 innings.

• Obviously the three-year, $13 million contract helped, but Jesse Crain also talked about the opportunity to be in the mix for saves as one of the reasons for signing with the White Sox. Chicago's bullpen has been a mess, with closer Matt Thornton blowing four saves already and manager Ozzie Guillen trying all kinds of different combinations late, but Crain has yet to get a crack at closing duties despite a 1.93 ERA and 11-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings.

Orlando Hudson got off to strong start in San Diego while oddly batting third in the Padres' lineup, but a recent slump has knocked his overall line down to .229/.349/.271 in 21 games. Of course, even that .620 OPS is still much higher than the Twins have gotten from Alexi Casilla (.485), Matt Tolbert (.469), Luke Hughes (.448), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.519) in the middle infield and Hudson is playing half his games in the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark.

• I didn't like the Twins' decision to trade J.J. Hardy after he was above par offensively among shortstops and outstanding defensively in the 101 games he was healthy enough to be in the lineup, but they have to be smiling after he lasted just six games with the Orioles before being placed on the disabled list. Hardy is out until mid-May with a strained oblique and one of the two minor-league relievers the Twins got for him, Jim Hoey, has been thrust into a setup role.

Brendan Harris was also traded to Baltimore in the Hardy swap or more accurately dumping $1.25 million of his $1.75 million salary on the Orioles was part of the Twins' side of the deal. No one will ever be able to explain why the Twins handed Harris a two-year, $3.2 million deal last January, but after spending most of last season at Triple-A he failed to make the Orioles out of spring training and is once again struggling in the International League.

Wilson Ramos has overtaken Ivan Rodriguez as Washington's starting catcher and all of a sudden articles have popped up explaining how the Twins don't regret trading a 22-year-old top catching prospect for the right to pay $10 million for one-and-a-half years of Matt Capps. I'm sure the timing is purely coincidental. Ramos is hitting .351 with surprisingly decent plate discipline early on, giving him a .302/.347/.414 career line through 34 games.

Dealt for Single-A reliever Paul Bargas in December after the Twins settled on Drew Butera as their preferred backup catcher, Jose Morales is now backing up Chris Iannetta in Colorado and playing sparingly in the early going. He owns a career line of .295/.374/.358 in 81 games, but the Twins never trusted his glove. Bargas unfortunately has been hospitalized due to a neurological condition, with general manager Bill Smith describing him as "very sick."

Nick Punto's one-year, $750,000 contract with St. Louis got off to a rough start when he underwent hernia surgery within days of reporting to spring training, but he's healthy now and already starting regularly in place of injured second baseman Skip Schumaker. I thought the Twins should have re-signed Punto as long as the money was no more than $1 million and the projected role was minor. For all his faults, he'd be their best middle infielder right now.

Pat Neshek not only won a spot in the Padres' bullpen out of spring training after being lost on waivers for nothing by the Twins, he threw eight innings with a 2.25 ERA and .222 batting average against. However, while I'm happy to see Neshek doing well and didn't understand cutting him loose, his 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is anything but impressive, his average fastball has clocked in at just 85.6 miles per hour, and now he's been optioned to Triple-A.

• Traded to the Braves for Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond last month in one of the most confusing Twins moves in a long time, Billy Bullock has struggled at Double-A with a 12.15 ERA through 6.2 innings. He thrived at Double-A in the second half of last season, but his shaky control has been a big problem with six walks. Diamond, meanwhile, has a 3.48 ERA and 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Rochester.

Rob Delaney was lost on waivers to Tampa Bay in late January when they Twins dropped him from the 40-man roster to make room for Dusty Hughes. Delaney failed to make the Rays out of spring training, but has a 2.45 ERA and 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings at Triple-A and will likely get a chance in Tampa Bay at some point this season. Hughes has been a mess so far, living up to his mediocre track record by allowing seven runs in seven innings.

Ron Mahay left the Twins as a free agent, signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers only to be released in the final week of spring training, and has latched on with the Diamondbacks at Triple-A, continuing a career-long pattern of having to prove himself anew seemingly every season despite consistently solid numbers. He might finally just be out of gas at age 40, but Mahay has a career ERA of 3.83 that includes a 3.49 mark in the previous five seasons.

Dennys Reyes beat out Hideki Okajima for the left-handed specialist role in the Red Sox's bullpen coming out of spring training, turning a minor-league deal into $900,000 in guaranteed money, and then got demoted to Triple-A one week into the season after four shaky outings. Reyes cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Pawtucket, but the $900,000 salary is locked in whether "Big Sweat" gets called back up to Boston or not.

Yohan Pino, a right-hander the Twins swapped to the Indians for Carl Pavano in mid-2009, was traded to the Blue Jays last week for cash considerations. Pino was a mid-level prospect when the Twins dealt him, posting standout numbers in the minors despite mediocre raw stuff, and now he's organizational filler at age 28. Pavano was an impending free agent back then, but went on to re-sign with the Twins twice and has a 4.09 ERA in 326 innings since the trade.

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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