“Quick” thoughts on Betances and arbitration

Unfortunately, things got a little … ugly … over the weekend, regarding Dellin Betances and his arbitration hearing with the Yankees.

I posted about the situation a month ago when it became imminent that the two parties were heading to a hearing. Basically, Betances wanted $5 million this season, while the team was only willing to give him $3 million. The case for Betances didn’t look good, in spite of the fact that he’s been a top 5 reliever in all of baseball for the past several seasons. The unfortunate reality of the situation is he’s pitching in a system that places more monetary value on closers, and he just doesn’t have closer numbers.

Well, that reality proved to be even more real over the weekend, when on Saturday it was reported that the arbitration Committee ruled in favor of the club and set Betances’ 2017 contract at $3 million. Whatever. It sucks. As a fan, you want to see your team treat it’s players well because, well, you know, they’re human beings. When it comes to players like Betances, who is a perennial star pitcher and a home-grown/home-born talent, you’d like it especially if the team treated them extra well so that they have incentive to stick around for a few seasons longer.

The money is one thing. That’s a business move on the part of the Yankees. The glaringly non-business move of the weekend was made by club president Randy Levine:

Honestly Randy, just shut the hell up. Your side won. There’s no need to be a raging asshole about it. I think we all know what type of money Betances would get if he hit free agency today. Don’t act like you’re doing him some huge favor by giving him $3 million, and don’t hit the guy while he’s down. Arbitration can be ugly, but it doesn’t have to be this ugly.

Betances had this to say:

It sucks to hear that. Just sucks. But you can’t blame him. The way Levine acted, calling together reporters to make statements that were not only condescending but completely unnecessary, was totally unprofessional. What incentive is there for a player to stick around on a team who’s president clearly does not value them? I’m not sure if anything short of a public apology from Levine (which I’m sure would never happen) is going to help fix relations between the two parties in the immediate future, but hopefully this is something that will ease over in time. Of course, with Betances set for his third year of arbitration next offseason, I don’t know if I see that happening.

All that being said, I don’t really think that this instance should be cited as an indictment of the arbitration system. Ultimately, the system is in place to protect young players under contract from being taken advantage of financially by their teams, and 9 times out of 10 that’s what happens. A team like the San Francisco Giants have avoided going to arbitration with a player in more than ten years, and that’s a sign that their young players believe they are being paid fairly. It’s the threat of arbitration that allows teams and players to make these compromises.

So really, this is an indictment of the perspectives and attitudes of the people who are being placed on these arbitration panels. They are supposed to be unbiased between the two parties, but if this instance is any indication of the typical panel, which I believe it is, they seem to be very out of touch with the changing landscape of the game. Relief pitchers have real value now, and not just closers. Hell, teams are sacrificing bench players just to add more bullpen arms. It’s a close call, but I can say with a good conscience that I believe Andrew Miller is the best reliever in baseball. How many saves did he record last season? 12. And only 3 of those came with the Cleveland Indians, the team who he helped propel to the World Series.

It’s becoming increasingly more clear that relief pitchers like Miller and Betances, not guys who close games, but guys who you can stick into high leverage late-inning situations to bridge the gap between your starter and your closer, are extremely valuable to teams. Just look at how Miller was used in the post-season, coming into close games as early as the 5th(!) inning to shut down lineups and keep his team in control.

Clearly those are the types of situations where you want to put in your most effective pitchers, and the value of these types of relievers should be judged accordingly. Not by an arbitration panel (or publicly by their own team’s president) with outdated ideas of what the value of a player is in today’s changing baseball landscape.


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