The Yankees won their arbitration case against Dellin Betances this weekend. Yankees team President Randy Levine responded by being a terrible sore winner:
Yankees president Randy Levine rips Dellin Betances' agents for "half baked attempt" to "use a player to change a well-established market."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
RL: "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."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
Betances and his agent asked for Betances to be paid in arbitration like what he is: the #1 relief pitcher in baseball by fWAR since he broke out in 2014. The catch is that Betances spent very little time in a closer role, and thus accrued very few saves. A lot of closers who accrue saves leading into arbitration get way overpaid (see Jim Johnson), because saves are a stupid statistic and everyone knows it.
However, the arbitration process doesn't actually care about how good a player is objectively; players are evaluated only based on how previous players were evaluated. Betances agents likely sat down and said, "Dellin Betances is a top-5 relief pitcher in baseball, a fact which you agree with, and deserves to be paid in arbitration like one." Randy Levine likely replied, "But no saves!", and that was it.
But let's be honest here: Betances deserves to be paid like the best relief pitcher to come through the arbitration process in recent memory. Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel were signed to long term deals. Wade Davis wasn't that good early in his arbitration years. Kenley Jansen went through arbitration, but wasn't nearly as good as Betances, and made $4.3m in his first arbitration year.
It's also easy to see why Betances chose to fight this one out. 2017 will be his age-29 season. There is a good chance that he won't be all that valuable when he hits free agency after three more campaigns. Betances needs to nearly make all of the money he will likely make for his career right now. To date, he has earned just the major league minimum for three years, in part because of a contract dispute last season that caused the Yankees to punitively reduce his salary.
Betances isn't getting screwed because he signed a bad contract, or because he is bad at baseball, or whatever. He's getting screwed because the Yankees have decided to use him in a way that makes him the most valuable relief pitcher in baseball, instead of the way that arbitration rewards. The Yankees are better off because they get to use a relief ace in high-leverage situations. Since he joined the team, the Yankees have a Pythagorean record of 244-242, but a real record of 255-231. Betances is a big reason for the difference.
If Betances were a free agent, does anyone doubt that he would receive a Chapman/Jansen contract? I don't.
At the very least, Betances does not deserve to be berated in a press conference by Randy Levine. Let's all remember how terrible for this team the business side of the front office is. They are responsible for the horrible Rafael Soriano contract. They are responsible for the giant "fuck you" to fans who had "never sat in a premium seat" that inspired this John Oliver segment:
So you know what? I'm on Team Betances here. Pay the man what he deserves, or trade him to a team that will.