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Indians deal Betancourt to Rockies

Indians deal Betancourt to Rockies

TORONTO -- Rafael Betancourt knows a span of seven seasons is a long time for a reliever to spend with a single club.

And with a postgame meeting with manager Eric Wedge on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre, Betancourt's relationship with the Indians came to an abrupt end.

Betancourt, a fixture in the Tribe 'pen since 2003, was informed that he has been traded to the Rockies for right-handed prospect Connor Graham, who will report to the Indians' Double-A Akron affiliate. Though saddened by the news, the 34-year-old Betancourt handled it with class.

"All these years, to be able to pitch here, was very good," he said. "You see a lot of relievers go around a lot. To be here seven years makes me proud."

If reports in the rumor mill are to be believed, Betancourt might not be the last long-term member of the team shipped out before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The names of reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and All-Star catcher Victor Martinez have been churning in that mill for months, and the talk has intensified in the past few days.

But general manager Mark Shapiro, in announcing the Betancourt trade to reporters in a conference call, did not bite when those rumors were brought up. Shapiro refused to address Lee and Martinez, specifically, but rather talked about the process the front office is currently going through in analyzing its place in the trade market.

"I'm not going to comment on any individual trades," Shapiro said. "The reason why you read things is not because we're out there examining and looking to do trades. When someone calls and asks about a player, it's our job to frame what the potential value for that player is at that time. After that, you look at where you're at with your team, your competitiveness, the life span of that player, where you're at with payroll [space] ... then you make a decision. It doesn't mean we're looking to move guys."

The Indians had plenty of incentive to move Betancourt, because he simply did not fit into their 2010 thinking. The club held a $5.4 million option on Betancourt for next season and had no intention of picking it up.

"We didn't see $5 million as the right price for that type of role in the bullpen," Shapiro said, "particularly in our situation."

So it made sense to see if there was interest for Betancourt on the trade market. And soon after Betancourt made his July 9 return from the disabled list, where he spent six weeks with a strained right groin, the Tribe found a taker in the Rockies, who hold a one-game lead in the National League Wild Card chase and are in need of bullpen help.

But it was a tough goodbye for Betancourt and his teammates. Martinez, in particular, was sad to see him go. The Venezuelan natives are the best of friends, and Martinez is the godfather of Betancourt's 6-year-old son, Rafael.

"I have a lot of good friends here in the front office and [among] the coaches and players," Betancourt said.

He had plenty of time to build those relationships. Betancourt, originally a shortstop prospect in the Red Sox' organization, was signed by the Indians to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite before the 2003 season. The Indians got one look at him in a spring game one night when the lights went out at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Fla. Betancourt was little more than an extra body on the roster, but after an extended delay due to the lighting situation, he was thrust into action and impressed scouts and coaches alike.

Betancourt went on to become a reliable reliever and then, in 2007, an elite setup man. He went 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 68 appearances that season and got the final out in the Tribe's AL Central clincher against Oakland.

In the time since, however, Betancourt has been much less predictable. He was 3-4 with a 5.07 ERA in a rough '08, and he's gone 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in an injury-plagued '09.

The Indians found what they feel is a reasonable return for Betancourt in the form of the 23-year-old Graham, a big-bodied Ohio native with intriguing numbers at the Class A level.

Graham, born in Bowling Green and schooled at Miami of Ohio, is 6-foot-7, 235 pounds and has spent all of '09 with the Modesto Nuts of the California League. He was 7-4 with a 3.14 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 41 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 16 starts. His ERA was the sixth best in the league, and he's limited the opposition to a .225 average against, with just two homers allowed. He was 3-0 with a 0.59 ERA over his past three starts.

The Rockies had plucked Graham out of Miami with their fifth-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. In his first full professional season last year, Graham went 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA in 26 starts for Asheville in low-A ball. Following the '08 season, Baseball America named him the 12th-best prospect in the Rockies' organization.

The Indians feel Graham is ready for Double-A. It's too early to project whether he'd be a starter or a reliever at the Major League level.

"Strike command is his area of development, clearly," Shapiro said. "But he's a guy who has power stuff. Pitching prospect depth is our greatest area of need."

And as the trade season reaches its peak in the coming week, that's what Shapiro will continue to look for.

"There is a chance something could happen in the next week," he said.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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