Traded Rafael Betancourt to the Colorado Rockies for RHP Connor Graham (A+)
After the 2002 season, the Indians didn't have a lot of money to spend. They had committed to a complete rebuild, but still had a lot of dead wood on the payroll. So they went the cheap route, signing lower-tiered free agents like Brian Anderson and Shane Spencer, and going hard after minor-league free agents. Casey Blake, signed in December, was a good get, as the only real reason he hadn't gotten a shot in majors was because the talent of ahead of him. They also signed Rafael Betancourt, a converted infielder coming off major elbow surgery. Both players would blossom into good, sometimes outstanding, major-leaguers, and are Mark Shapiro's best two free agent signings by a large margin.
Betancourt was called up in 2003, and stuck around over seven years, an eternity at a normally itinerant position. He had a great five-year run as the Indians' primary setup man, and was one of the major reason why the Indians won the AL Central in 2007. He threw 79.1 innings in that magical season, giving up 51 hits, striking out 80, and allowing just 9 walks and 4 home runs.
And now we've come full circle. Last season, Casey Blake was dealt to the Dodgers, as he was approaching free agency. And now, Betancourt has become too expensive to hang onto. He has a 2010 option that very few teams would pick up, and there was no chance the Indians would bring him back. For a club already committed to paying Kerry Wood $10.5M in 2010, paying a declining setup man $5.4M was out of the question. He had his first bad season as a major-leaguer in 2008, and he missed over 30 games with a groin injury this year. He's still an effective reliever, but not good enough to keep at that salary.
Connor Graham has been starting for Colorado's California League affiliate, but is most likely headed towards a relief role as he heads in the upper levels of the minors. He's a big guy (listed at 6'6", 235 lbs), and throws hard (sitting in the low- to mid- 90s), but has trouble throwing strikes, a normal problem for pitchers of his size and arm strength. He's a decent prospect, and the Indians need pitching, but this deal was made with present and future salary in mind.