As of right now, the Indians have a handful of guaranteed bullpen slots come opening day. The recently signed Kerry Wood will immediately assume the role of closer, with Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi filling in where needed.
Then we have the deal that sent Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle, ultimately landing 24-year old Joe Smith from the New York Mets. He will serve predominantly as a right-handed specialist and will have little use anywhere outside of the one-to-two batters a night.
And now with rumors of Florida Marlins relieer Joe Nelson possibly heading to Cleveland, one has to wonder what exactly the team has in mind.
Given how dreadfully awful (yes, two words that mean the same thing – mostly for emphasis purposes) the Tribe’s bullpen was last season, fans have to appreciate the attention being paid to those that will take the hill in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. But with several other areas of need still lacking (second base, starting pitcher), you can’t help but think that one of these relievers will be packaged before the start of next season.
Nelson is coming off of a season that saw him toss 54 innings of 2.00 ERA ball. He went 3-1 and was pretty solid against both lefties and righties – so the interest in him is well-deserved. I can’t imagine too many squads looking on eBay for their very own Masa Kobayashi. And the team still considers Rafy Perez a possible closer of the future. All of this seems to be leaning towards one of the abovementioned playing elsewhere next season, and I cannot help but to think that guy is Rafy Betancourt.
Betancourt is due $2 million next season, representing a raise of 144 percent off of last season’s $840,000 that he took home last year. We obviously know that that raise wasn’t exactly earned, but it could be considered a reward for his entire body of work which was not all that bad before the 2008 campaign.
If we go back to 2007, we have a guy that threw nearly 80 innings of 1.48 ERA baseball. He fanned 80 batters while walking only nine. He held right-handed hitters to an average of .147 and gave up a total of four home runs. Of course, you then have to completely ignore that each number mentioned was nearly tripled for last year, but hey…there’s potential somewhere in there!
Now, this is all pure speculation on my part, and I have no clue what any other team would be willing to give us in return for a set-up man. It would be a very tough time to trade Betancourt, as his value is a very big unknown at this point. Do you trade him based on last season? I don’t see how the team would do that, as the only returning item they could possibly get would be some baseballs and possibly new shoes for Slider. But is any team in their right mind trading for a guy based solely on his stats two years ago? I doubt it.
So stay tuned to this. If anything, realize that this team is far from done making moves to prepare for 2009.