TORONTO: The Indians plunged into the annual mid-summer deal derby Thursday by trading Rafael Betancourt to the Rockies for a Class A starter from Bowling Green.
The target of General Manager Mark Shapiro was 24-year-old Connor Graham, currently 7-4 with a 3.14 earned-run average in the California League, where hitters usually outshine pitchers.
In the case of Graham, a 6-foot-7, 235-pounder, he has the sixth best ERA in the league with a batting average against of .225, allowing just two home runs in 80 1/3 innings. He has an issue with walks (giving up 41), but he can make batters swing and miss, the proof being 87 strikeouts.
"He'a a power pitcher with a big, strong body,'' Shapiro said. ""He throws in the mid-90s with an effective slider. Command clearly needs to be part of his development.''
In his past three starts, Graham is 3-0 with an 0.59 ERA. Over this span he has walked four and struck out 24 in 15 1/3 innings.
Graham has been a starter and will continue to be for now. The Tribe is immediately promoting him to Akron.
Asked if Graham's future is as a starter, Shapiro said, "We're not sure yet. We'll decide his role as he goes down the development path.''
Being from Northwest Ohio and having attended Miami University in Oxford, Indians scouts were well aware of Graham the past several years. Colorado took him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and in 2008 he spent his first full professional season at "low'' Class A Asheville of the South Atlantic League, where he posted a 12-6 record and 2.26 ERA in 26 starts.
"We have a track record of watching him,'' Shapiro said. ""But the trade is based on more recent information.''
Betancourt was limited to 29 appearances this season because of a strained groin that kept him on the disabled list for more than five weeks, until July 9. He is 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 30 2/3 innings.
After a spectacular season in 2007, Betancourt struggled last year, posting a 3-4 record and 5.07 ERA in 69 appearances. But as Cleveland's setup man two years ago, he was virtually unhittable, compiling a 5-1 record with three saves and a 1.47 ERA in 68 games (79 1/3 innings).
"I think of that as a career year that nobody could have recaptured,'' Shapiro said. "I view him as one of the more reliable relievers in the game who had an elite year.''
However, that did not translate into Betancourt being a reliever worth keeping in 2010 at the cost of a $5.4 million option.
"We did not see $5 million as the right price for a pitcher in that role in our bullpen,'' Shapiro said.
But Shapiro emphasized the amount of the option did not play a part in trading Betancourt, because the team wasn't going to keep him anyway, and there was no buyout clause.
Betancourt seemed genuinely sorry to leave the Indians.
"I was here for a long time, and I have a lot of good friends here,'' he said. "I can't really say anything bad about being here.''
Betancourt has never been in the big leagues with another organization, but he quickly resigned himself to leaving.
"It's sad for me, but I have to be a professional about it,'' he said. ""Things can happen. You never know when. I never went through this before, because this is the only team in the big leagues I've been with. I've seen a lot of guys come and go, now it's my turn.''
Betancourt didn't regard a trade to the Rockies as a better opportunity for him.
"I don't think it's (more of) an opportunity,'' he said. "I have an opportunity here. I appreciated everything I had here, but now I have to go to Colorado and help them win.''