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Betancourt Shipped Out for Graham

The Cleveland Indians organization continued its dismantling of the disappointing 2009 squad by shipping veteran reliever Rafael Betancourt to the Colorado Rockies for minor league pitcher Connor Graham. The Indians’ bullpen has received a huge face-lift since the beginning of the season; new faces include Chris Perez, Jose Veras, Winston Abreu, and Mike Gosling. The club has shed numerous veteran pitchers like Matt Herges, Luis Vizcaino, Vinnie Chulk, and Betancourt.

Betancourt, 34, spent parts of seven seasons in the Majors with Cleveland and was a reliable mainstay in the bullpen for six. He was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1993 and even spent a little bit of time in Japan. The Indians signed him as a minor league free agent in 2003. On the final year of a two-year contract (with a $5.4 million option for 2010) that was paying him $3.4 million, Betancourt was poised to enter the free agent market at season’s end.

It was a good time for Cleveland to shed Betancourt (and it allows him to enter a playoff race). The right-hander was having a respectable season, but his workload was down a bit as he began to show signs of fragility. His control was also slipping as his walk rate went from ranging between 1.02-2.43 BB/9 during his prime years to 3.17 in ’08 and 4.40 in ’09. Betancourt’s strikeout rate, though, remained strong at 9.39 K/9 and he was allowing fewer than one hit per nine innings. His 30.9 GB% should make things interesting in Colorado.

The Indians organization has certainly seen a jump in the quality of its minor-league arms (T.J. House, Hector Rondon, Alexander Perez, Jeanmar Gomez) and the addition of Graham adds another promising power arm to the system. Graham at 6’6” 235 lbs is a behemoth with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and good slider. He was a reliever at the University of Miami (Ohio), but he’s been getting added pitching experience by working out of the starting rotation in pro ball. Most scouts believe, though, that his MLB future lies back in the bullpen, where he could develop into a set-up man or closer.

This season in high-A ball, Graham allowed 68 hits in 80.1 innings, while posting a walk rate of 4.59 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.75 K/9. It’s his control that will dictate whether or not he gets handed the ball in the ninth inning. He’s done a nice job of keeping the ball in the park in his career, and he allowed just two homers this season in Modesto.

If Cleveland wants a return on its investment sooner rather than later, it will assign Graham to double-A and shifted him to the bullpen. If that were to occur, he could be ready for the Majors by mid-2010. He turns 24 in December, so there is no reason to keep the kid gloves on.

All things considered, it’s a smart move by both organizations.