Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
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.
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