Among the many, many news items that came out of the Yankees’ first ever Winter Warmup event this week was the revelation that the team and Dellin Betances are heading to an arbitration hearing.
Betances’ camp filed at $5M for the upcoming season while the Yankees offered $3M. That $2M gap may seem insignificant, considering the Yankees are paying absorbent amounts of money to players contributing far less than Betances, but according to Brian Cashman the gap is too wide to settle.
This winter, the Yankees settled with all of their other arbitration-eligible players for 2017. Michael Pineda, who had twice as many losses as he did wins in 2016, earned a raise and will be making $7.4M next season. Didi Gregorius and the Yanks settled at $5.1M, a steal for what I think is one of the better shortstops in the American League. They also reached agreements with Adam Warren, Tommy Layne (woo-hoo), Austin Romine, and Aaron Hicks without much squabble.
So, why are the Yankees and Betances taking things to court?
First, let me say that an arbitration hearing probably sounds worse than it really is. Teams and players go to hearings all the time and their relationships don’t suffer.
But facts are facts and the Yankees — in offering Betances $3M — are diminishing his worth. Dellin’s baseball-reference page indicates he is worth vastly more than three, or even five million bucks. He is a top-3 relief pitcher by any statistical measure the baseball nerds can craft, yet the Yankees offered him marginally more than what they settled at with Adam Warren ($2.29M).
There are a couple of factors working against Betances.
For starters, Dellin emerged as a dominant force on the later side so his major league service time is less than that of a normal soon-to-be 29-year old. While his debut was within his control to a certain extent, it is largely a matter of timing. Ben Lindbergh went in-depth on Jose Bautista’s poor timing and the impact that has had on his wallet, and it seems something similar could be happening with Betances.
Unlike Bautista though, Betances will probably not have the same length of time to cash-in because pitchers do not enjoy the same longevity as hitters. Bautista has already banked $85M (78 of which came after his 30th birthday), and by the time the 2017 season concludes, it will be north of $100M, so nobody is feeling bad for Joey Bats.
Betances, on the other hand, has under-earned — $1.5M to date thanks to three seasons at league minimum — to such a large degree versus his performance that I actually do feel bad. Betances is a 3-time All Star and appeared in more games for the Yankees than any other pitcher since the start of 2014, yet they are treating him like a run-of-the-mill reliever.
The other element working against Dellin is his role. In 2014, his breakout season, he setup David Robertson. In 2015 he setup Andrew Miller. For most of 2016 he was the setup to the setup man, or assistant regional setup man (whichever you prefer).
Now, with Aroldis Chapman inked for at least 3 seasons, Betances is back to being the setup man and the Yankees are using that against him.
I have no doubt that Betances is worth closer money. He would have been the third most sought-after relief pitcher on the market this winter and earned in the neighborhood of $70M — more than Melancon but less than Chapman and Jansen. As things stand now, Betances will be lucky to sniff that amount of money considering he wont hit the open market until 2020 and won’t be the Yankees closer between now and then.
At one time or another, I have argued that the Yankees should use Dellin Betances as a bullpen fireman. I have also argued that, in light of signing Chapman, Betances would have more value to the Yankees as anything but a setup man, including a starting pitcher. As it turns out, though, the Yankees are perfectly ok masking Dellin’s value by labeling him a setup man.
In the past, the Yankees have been willing to pay for setup men. They paid Rafael Soriano $10M a year to setup Mariano Rivera in 2011, and were fine paying Andrew Miller $9M to setup Chapman last year. The only difference in those cases was that they were free agent signings, not cheap and controllable assets.
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting the Yankees pay Betances $10M a year out of the goodness of their hearts. That is a poor and unrealistic way of doing business. I also understand that players always under-earn in their arbitration years and over-earn in their post-free agent years. That’s how the free market baseball system works; you’re paid more for what you did instead of what you will do. It’s stupid, but I don’t have a solution for it.
I’m simply saying that the Yankees quibbling over $2M with Betances, a Bronx native and fan favorite, is off-putting.