Details still coming in, but the AP is now reporting that the Indians have signed Rafael Betancourt to a two-year contract covering the 2008 and 2009 seasons, with a club option for a third year in 2010. Betancourt had been eligible for salary arbitration for the upcoming 2008 season, and for free agency after 2009. Similar to the deal given to Jake Westbrook after the 2004 season, this deal locks in cost certainty for 2009 and secures Betancourt's services for an extra year. More details to come ...
UPDATE: Paul Hoynes is now reporting that the deal is worth a guaranteed $5.4 million -- 2.05 in 2008 and 3.35 in 2009. The 2010 club option is for $5 million, and no guaranteed buyout, incentives or vesting terms have been reported.
Betancourt was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezeula by the Red Sox in 1993 -- to play shortstop. By 1996, he'd bombed out as a hitter (478 OPS in Low-A), so the Red Sox tried to reinvent him as a pitcher. Despite some early success, Betancourt was dogged by injuries and released by Boston in 2002. Signed by the Indians in 2003 to a minor league deal -- Championship! -- he proceeded to mow down Double-A hitters as an Aero, to the tune of 75 K's in only 45 innings, and was in the majors by the All-Star break that same year. Though occasionally slowed down by injury, he generally has been a solid contributor ever since.
For the 2007 season, Betancourt arguably was the most dominant reliever in the game, posting a 1.47 ERA over 79+ innings. He held teams scoreless in 55 of his 68 appearances, allowed zero unearned runs all season, and never once allowed more than one run to score. He was exceptionally stingy with free passes, yielding only nine walks (in nine separate games) and zero HBP. In one 29-game stretch starting in early May, he gave up only two runs over 33+ innings, both on solo shots. (Outside of that stretch, his ERA was still only 2.15, which would have been the 7th best in the league.)
And as everybody knows, he led all major league relievers in both FIP and PRC.
The 2010 club option is particularly notable in that its price tag, $5 million, is low compared to other elite relievers and isn't even guaranteed. More than a dozen relievers are already paid a higher salary than that, and the number almost certainly will at least double by 2010. Betancourt will turn 35 in April of that season.