Rockies hope to agree with Betancourt
GM O'Dowd would like to bring righty reliever back into fold
DENVER -- The Rockies are hoping to hammer out an agreement with Rafael Betancourt before Friday's deadline for the club to decide whether to exercise a $5 million option for the right-handed pitcher.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said Wednesday, at the conclusion of the MLB General Mangers Meetings in Chicago, that the club is discussing with Betancourt's representatives "a number of different options." Although teams that watch their budgets generally like negotiating new deals with less up-front money, rather than picking up expensive options, O'Dowd said simply exercising the option is on the table.
Betancourt is a Type A free agent. That means if the Rockies offer him arbitration and another team signs him, the Rockies would receive two picks in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft -- either a first- or second-round pick from the team that signs him, and a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds. Being rated Type A also argues to the value Betancourt would have with the Rockies.
Betancourt, who turns 35 next April, went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 35 games with the Rockies after they acquired him from the Indians for right-handed pitching prospect Conor Graham in July. If the Rockies don't claim Betancourt's option or reach another deal by Friday, he can file for free agency and Colorado would have to compete with other teams' offers.
Betancourt could augment a bullpen that already has several accomplished members returning, including closer Huston Street.
Righty Manuel Corpas has responded well to late-season elbow surgery, and Taylor Buchholz -- the primary right-handed setup man in 2008 -- will be back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Righty Matt Belisle and lefty Randy Flores, each of whom contributed last season, avoided arbitration with new contracts. Left-hander Franklin Morales, one of the team's top prospects, became effective as a late-innings left-hander last season.
None of that guarantees a strong bullpen, but keeping players like Betancourt in the fold helps make it possible.
"Bullpens are like Rubik's Cubes," O'Dowd said. "No matter who you have, you've got to see how it plays out. Injuries, how people do in back-to-back performances, a lot of things come into that. So you want to build depth."
Toward that end, O'Dowd confirmed that the club is interested in re-signing two veteran free agents, righty Jose Contreras, who joined the Rockies in an Aug. 31 trade with the White Sox and could get offers from other clubs as a starter, and lefty Joe Beimel, who came in a trade with the Nationals at the non-waiver deadline. The club is also hoping to re-sign catcher Yorvit Torrealba after turning down his $4 million option and allowing him to file for free agency.
The Rockies are expected to trade, release or non-tender third baseman Garrett Atkins. Under Major League arbitration rules, the Rockies are not allowed to cut Atkins' salary by more than 20 percent from the $7.05 million he earned this year if they tender him an offer. Atkins, who drove in at least 99 runs each season from 2006-08, slipped to 48 RBIs in '09 and lost his starting job to Ian Stewart.
O'Dowd declined to discuss Atkins specifically. But O'Dowd said economics are forcing teams to make quick decisions with such players. That means many arbitration-eligible players could be traded or released before Nov. 20, when teams must set their 40-man Major League rosters. Teams have until Dec. 12 to decide whether to tender offers to arbitration-eligible players.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.