TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees beat Dellin Betances in the arbitration room.
How much of a long-term victory it will be remains to be seen, though. The reliever made it clear Saturday that — at least for one day — there are hard feelings, ones that might have him reconsidering how he is used.
Club president Randy Levine kicked off what turned out to be a somewhat bizarre day — one that began with the news that Betances will be paid the $3 million this season the Yankees filed at rather than the $5 million the reliever asked for — by blasting Betances’ representation for taking the case to arbitration in the first place.
In describing the request for $5 million, Levine used words such as “overreaching,” “ridiculous,” “half-baked” and “fantasy,” at one point calling Betances a “victim” of his agents’ desire to reset the arbitration marketplace when it comes to how relievers are compensated.
It was Levine’s use of the word “victim” that had Betances, among the quieter, more laid-back players in the clubhouse when it comes to talking to the media, choosing to return fire.
“I was planning on putting everything behind me until I was aware of Randy Levine’s comments saying I was a victim in this whole process,” said Betances, who reported to camp earlier Saturday. “[Them] saying how much they loved me, but then they take me in a room and they trash me for about an hour and a half. I thought that was unfair.”
In the past three seasons, Betances appeared in more games than any other reliever in baseball (217), posted a 1.93 ERA and struck out 392 in 247 innings. He often was brought in with men on base and occasionally was asked to throw multiple innings and throw three days in a row (a rarity for a Joe Girardi reliever). “I’ve taken the ball time after time,’’ he said. “Whenever they needed me, I was there for them. I never said no.”
He hinted that could change.
“You go in that room and you [hear] some of the stuff, you ask, do you put yourself at risk at all times?” he said, taking umbrage at the suggestion that he has acted only as a setup man. “I mean, it’s fair for me to say that.”
Though the Yankees criticized Betances’ defense, including his difficulty holding runners on, their primary point was that he isn’t a closer and shouldn’t be rewarded as such in the arbitration process.
“The history [with arbitration] is very well established that $5 million goes to elite closers, people who pitch the ninth inning and have a lot, a lot, a lot of saves,” Levine said. “Dellin didn’t have that record, he never did. He’s a great, elite setup man, maybe one day he’ll be a great closer, we hope so, but that’s like me saying, ‘I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut.’ Well, I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer. At least based on statistics, not whether he could be or couldn’t, but he isn’t.”
The game, however, is changing. More teams in recent years have embraced the thought that the most critical outs can occur before the ninth.
“Hands down, a top-five reliever the last three years,” said one opposing team executive who was quick to say he wasn’t choosing sides and simply was evaluating Betances, a three-time All-Star who turns 29 next month. “Who, closers included, has been better than him?”
The hearing took place Friday in St. Petersburg, with Levine, general manager Brian Cashman and assistant general manager Jean Afterman among those sitting across from Betances.
Though Levine said the hearing “wasn’t that contentious,” Betances felt otherwise.
“For them not to look me in the eye . . . ,” Betances said, not finishing the thought. “They said some good things, I won’t say they didn’t, but a lot of the things weren’t nice. That’s all I can really say.”
Levine, not incorrectly, pointed out that arbitration-eligible relievers do not command such salaries and that the Yankees were more than fair.
“Dellin Betances is a great, great, person, Dellin Betances is a great, great, elite setup man for the New York Yankees, and the New York Yankees rewarded him as such by making him the highest paid first-time [eligible] elite setup man in the history of baseball arbitration,” Levine said. “What his agents did is make him a victim of an attempt to change a marketplace in baseball that has been well-established for 30, 40 years, and I feel bad for Dellin that he was used in that way by his agents.”
Betances’ primary agent, Jim Murray, launched his own attack later in the day, calling Levine’s comments “reprehensible and outright false.”
“We are not going to be bullied by the Yankees’ team president,” Murray told Fox Sports. “It was very ironic to hear the Yankees’ president express his love and affection when he spent the only portion of the hearing, to which he contributed to, was calling this player by the wrong first name. It is Dellin, for the record. He then proceeded to blame Dellin for the Yankees’ declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history . . . Bottom line, they had very little good to say about a player who grew up as a Yankees fan and contributed more than virtually any other relief pitcher in baseball.”