Dellin Betances lost his arbitration hearing to the Yankees this weekend. He was seeking $5 million dollars, typically an amount reserved for closers, but the Yankees offered $3 million dollars. This was Betances’ first year of arbitration eligibility.
No matter if he won or lost, Betances would see a significant bump in his salary this year, after making the league minimum the past three years ($507,500). In baseball’s current state, high-end relief pitching is more valuable than ever, so Betances trying to get $5 million dollars is without a doubt reasonable of him to ask. Had Betances won, this would have set a precedent for other elite relievers. Ultimately he did not win and generally when a player goes to arbitration, whether he wins or loses, the story ends at the decision.
Arbitration is traditionally a grueling process for players, especially when it is their first time going through it. When a player wants a certain amount of money and an organization values them at a different total, they must explain why the player does not deserve their requested amount. This results in players feeling insulted when clubs point out all of their negative traits and how their previous season was far from perfect. The Yankees President of Baseball Operations Randy Levine, refused to move on from the decision and has instead caused unnecessary tension with not only one of the top players on the team, but one of the top players at his position.
Levine held a conference call with reporters shortly after the news broke of the Yankees victory in arbitration. It was obvious he was frustrated with the process along with Betances and his agent. He thoroughly expressed his displeasure in his comments. He said Betances and his agent had the intent to “change the marketplace” with this deal. Which is conceivable for a player of his stature. He has logged over 240 innings in the past three years with an outstanding 2.16 ERA, 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings, and three consecutive all-star appearances. Also, despite not being a closer he has recorded 22 saves the past three seasons while filling in periodically. Betances was shaky in the closer role at times, but he has never really been given a chance to be the closer for a large chunk of the season. He locks down the 8th inning and sometimes even the 7th too. Girardi uses Betances like his very own Swiss army knife, making him go multiple innings when he really wants to seal a victory. This is why I found Randy Levine’s comments troubling.
You have young pitcher on your team who has been one of the faces of the team during this transitional period of the Yankees. Betances is a home grown Yankee, born in Brooklyn and drafted by the team back in 2006. He takes the ball whenever he is asked and pitches however many innings Joe Girardi asks of him. When Betances pitches in what seems like every game and fans and writers debate whether he is being overworked, he doesn’t say a word and just keeps taking the ball. Not only does Betances take the ball, but he continues to dominate night in and night out. Levine said $3 million should be a “great victory for Dellin Betances,” and his $5M request “had no bearings in reality.” He furthered his position even more by saying, “$5M goes to elite closers. Pitchers who pitch the 9th inning and have a lot of saves. Dellin didn’t have that record. He never did.”
If there is anyone who could alter the status quo of reliever contracts it is Dellin Betances. The bullpen has become a critical part of every game and Betances comes in to pitch in the biggest spots night after night. If you could believe this, Levine went even further by saying, “It’s like me saying, I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut. I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer”. From the Yankees side it is true, he is not a closer, which means he doesn’t deserve closer value, but to keep carrying on in an antagonistic manner like this is just mind blowing.
Dellin held his own press conference to address the outcome of the hearing. He began by telling the media that he wanted to put the whole thing behind him, but that all changed after he heard Levine’s comments. He referred to himself as a “victim of this whole process”. He also said “after telling me how much they love me, they took me into a room and trashed me for an hour and a half”. As I said, Betances is a true New Yorker, born in Brooklyn. He grew up a Yankee fan and has also grown through the Yankees system, so you would think there is usually some sort of sentiment for a homegrown player. Clearly not, as this is one of the many examples of how baseball is now a business before anything else. Betances is a unique specimen that defies the precedent of former arbitration cases for relievers in the past. Saves are the primary factor when determining the value of a reliever in arbitration and that idea might be outdated.
There are many other critical statistics to measure relief performance. Relievers now play a predominant role in today’s game, which wasn’t the case when this precedent was set. The arbitration process is a flawed system that Betances and his agents tried to renew. They failed and Betances, while frustrated would have moved on from the situation like any player after an arbitration case.
This is why Randy Levine’s comments leave me scratching my head. Why create haste with one of the organizations brightest talents? The team hasn’t been to a playoff series since 2012 and Betances has been one of the only enjoyable aspects of the team to many fans. The case is over and done with and while I disagree with the decision, I hope the Yankees can quell the animosity created by the aftermath.