After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey never did get a chance to pitch for the Rockies. Colorado traded the starting pitcher to Cleveland last week, along with $1.25 million in cash, for righthanded reliever Zach Putnam.
Around here, this begged questions about whether the Rockies had outfoxed the Twins in the Dec. 6 deal that sent Slowey to Colorado for righthanded reliever Daniel Turpen. The answer is complicated.
For insight, I called a talent evaluator from another MLB club who is very familiar with all three pitchers. In short, he thinks the Rockies acquired a decent relief prospect in Putnam, but he doesn't think the Twins got fleeced because of all the variables involved. Here's the background:
* The Twins were probably going to non-tender Slowey, so they finally just took the best deal they could get. Slowey, 27, went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA last year and was viewed as a clubhouse lawyer by the team's decision makers. The team liked him enough to make him a second-round draft pick in 2005, but by the end, everyone involved knew it was time for a change of scenery.
* Turpen, 25, is a big, strong righthander whose fastball sits about 93-95 mph, but his slider is inconsistent. He posted an unimpressive 4.83 ERA last year for Class AA Tulsa (with 33 K and 35 BB in 59.2 IP). He's been traded twice (first from San Francisco to Boston for Ramon Ramirez) and was also taken in the 2010 Rule 5 draft by the Yankees (before returning to the Red Sox), so other teams have seen his potential.
* The Rockies tendered Slowey a contract and avoided arbitration, signing him to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. But they kept on acquiring starting pitchers, including Oakland's Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso in this month's trade for outfielder Seth Smith.
* The Indians developed a sudden need for an established big league starter last week, when Fausto Carmona was found to be playing under a false indentity. He's actually named Roberto Heredia and 31, not 28. That gave the Rockies more leverage in those negotiations.
* Putnam, 24, was named Cleveland's tenth best prospect by Baseball America this month. He posted a 3.65 ERA for Class AAA Columbus last year (with 68 K's, 23 BB's in 68 IP) and then had a 6.14 ERA in eight games as a September call-up for the Indians. He and Turpen are actually quite similar. Putnam's fastball is about 90-94 mph, and he's inconsistent with his slider. The difference is, Putnam has a pretty good split-fingered fastball and was viewed as a potential starter as recently as 2010.
Bottom line: Most scouts would take Putnam over Turpen, but they have similar upsides as middle relievers and need to command their sliders better before they'll be effective in a major league relief role. The Rockies ended up with a better relief prospect but paid $1.25 million to get him. The Indians, meanwhile, will be paying Slowey $1.5 million, hoping he can rediscover the form that helped him go 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 2010.