Thursday, July 23, 2009
Rockies bolster bullpen with Betancourt, ChacinPosted by Evan Brunell
The first move was to promote righty Jhoulys Chacin to the big leagues. Chacin was pulled from his Double-A start Wednesday night, fueling debate that he was about to be traded. Wisely, the move was instead to put him in the Rockies bullpen.
Chacin is a starter first and foremost, but lately teams are starting to realize the benefit of the Earl Weaver approach: taking stud young starters and apprenticing them in the bullpen while benefiting from their talent. 21, Chacin posted a 3.18 ERA on the year in 18 starts, with a 7.49 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9. The BB/9 mark is the worst of his still-young career, but it bears monitoring. He can dial up his fastball to 94. Coupled with the sinking action, it should make for a great fastball in Coors Field.
Chacin at the very least will spend several years as a top reliever or middle-of-the-rotation arm. As Baseball America notes, he is unlikely to turn into a top-of-the-rotation starter unless his curveball develops into a plus-pitch.
Chacin should greatly help a team ranked 26th in all of baseball in bullpen ERA, 13th in the National League with a 4.86 ERA.
The Rockies have been seeking a solution outside of the organization for a couple of months now. Takashi Saito of the Red Sox had his name connected with the organization, but nothing seemed to come to fruition.
Today, the Rockies acquired Rafael Betancourt from the Cleveland Indians for 24-year old Connor Graham, a starter in High-A Modesto. Graham, towering at 6'7" posted a 3.14 ERA and 87/41 K/BB ratio in 80.1 innings in 16 starts. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Indians move him to Double-A, given Graham is already 24. Baseball America denoted Graham as the Rockies' 12th best prospect in the organization, so it's not a bad haul. However, given Graham's age and spotty command, I'm bearish on his long-term prospects.
Betancourt, 34, makes $3.35 million in 2009 before a club option for $5.4 million pops up. Given Betancourt's slide back to middle relief status, the Indians were not likely to pick up the option. It remains to see if the Rockies will do so.
Betancourt's best season came in 2007, when he posted a minuscule 1.47 ERA in 79.1 appearances and single-handedly making every single postseason game 30 minutes longer than it had to be. His 2.22 FIP backed up that dominance, but the following year saw his ERA slide to 5.07 and FIP to 4.40. This year, he's at a fine 3.52 ERA (3.70 FIP) and 1.32 WHIP. He missed time with injury, KOing him for all of June. If you throw out April, Betancourt's ERA is in the mid-2.50s. Betancourt is unlikely to sustain this, however, as he's currently on pace for a career-low 12.3 line drive percentage and .288 BABIP.
Still, however, he should provide the Rockies with a solid arm -- certainly better than one Juan Rincon has provided the Rockies. The club could opt to option Matt Daley, but he's been effective on the year. Betancourt's addition could mean the jettisoning of Rincon; Chacin was added due to Manny Corpas being knocked out until September thanks to surgery for bone chips in his elbow.
It's refreshing to see the Rockies strike quickly and make two aggressive moves to bolster their bullpen in advance of a wild dogfight for a postseason berth. They're definitely a better team today than they were yesterday, and it puts the pressure on the San Francisco Giants to get a bat to keep pace.
Evan Brunell is currently editor of Fire Brand of the American League, a Red Sox blog he began in 2003. He also scores games at Fenway Park for MLB. He was the co-founder and president of MVN, an independent sports media web site.