Rafael Betancourt's days in the Indians' bullpen are over as the right-hander was traded to the Colorado Rockies for young Connor Graham. Betancourt, 34, will be a free agent after the season and the Indians were unlikely to sign him and decided to try and get a younger player with potential in an effort to rebuild from this disappointing season. Graham, an Ohio native, will turn 24 in December.
The Indians held a $5 million club option on Betancourt for 2010, but felt that was too expensive for a reliever who has been very inconsistent the past two seasons after a fabulous 2007.
"Looking at the market this season and next, we don't see $5 million as the right price for that kind of role in the bullpen," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said.
Shapiro said other trades are possible, but would not comment on any possible talks with other teams.
During the Indians' four-game series against Seattle last weekend, several scouts were watching players on both teams as the trading deadline of July 31 approaches.
There are rumors at all-star catcher Victor Martinez and left-hander Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, could be dealt. Several teams obviously would like to land players of that caliber and although Shapiro would not discuss any scenarios, it is certain that he would have to be overwhelmed to trade away the two most valuable commodities on the roster.
"Our job on any player is to examine the market and decide whether it makes sense to make a deal or not," Shapiro said in regards to other possible trades.
Lee talked to The Associated Press about the trade and his situation following the Indians' 5-4 win in Toronto on Thursday.
"He's been a pretty solid pitcher for us for a while," Lee said of Betancourt. "He's going to be missed. I'm sure the organization is trying to make a move to make us better."
Lee said he is trying to not pay attention to trade rumors and focus on his next start.
"If something's going to happen you want it to happen sooner rather than later and get it over with, make the adjustment and get there, get to a new team and keep going," Lee told the AP.
Betancourt expressed disappointment at leaving the Indians.
"I was here for a long time with this team and I have a lot of good friends here, front office, coaches, players," he said. "They've always been great to me. I can't say anything bad about it.
"It's a sad moment for me right now but I have to be a professional and keep playing.
Betancourt recently came off the disabled list, where he spent six weeks with a strained right groin. In 29 appearances this season, he is 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA and has allowed 25 hits and struck out 32 in 30 2-3 innings.
Originally a shortstop in the Boston Red Sox organization, he switched to pitching 10 years ago. After a couple of years in the Indians' minor-league system, he came to Cleveland in 2003 and has been a valuable setup man. When the Indians won the AL Central in 2007, he compiled a 1.47 ERA in 68 games, setting up AL saves leader Joe Borowski.
Betancourt was shocked at the trade.
"These things can happen. You never know when it's going to happen," he said. "I never went through this before, this is the only team I've played with in the big leagues. I've seen a lot of guys over the years come here and leave and now it's my turn. I have to go there for the last two and a half months and help that team win."
Graham will be assigned to Double-A Akron.
A native of Bowling Green, O., he played three seasons at Miami (O.) University, going a combined 13-11 with four saves in 52 games including 21 starts. All the saves came in his freshman year of 2005. By 2007, he was strictly a starter and in 13 games went 5-4 with a 4.24 ERA.
Selected by the Rockies in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, Graham went 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA in his first pro season at Class A Tri-City.
He pitched at Class A Asheville in 2008, going 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 26 starts. That was in the South Atlantic League, which includes Cleveland's farm team at Lake County.
Thus far this season, Graham had a 7-4 record and 3.14 ERA in 16 starts for Modesto in the Class A California League.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pounder, has an impressive fastball that touches 94 to 96 mph on the radar gun, but his best pitch is probably a sharp-biting slider. He totaled 87 strikeouts in 80 1-3 innings this year, while giving up only 68 hits. He also walked 41 and had allowed only two home runs.
He has been particularly effective this month, going 3-0 with am 0.59 ERA. In his last 15 1-3 innings, he has allowed 12 hits, only four walks and struck out 24.