I was in a cab on Lexington on Christmas Eve when I saw the news: Dellin Betances signed with the Mets. I had just regrettably paid for a $15 Christmas cocktail and I could feel it coming back up. My favorite Yankee in a post-Derek Jeter world had once again been screwed over by the only team he had ever known, and the New York native, homegrown superstar and best reliever in baseball for five straight seasons was no longer a Yankee. It didn’t matter that it was the Mets. It could have been the Dodgers or Nationals or Braves and I would have felt sick. The fact it was the Mets only made it worse.
As a Betances fan and someone who wants the Yankees to win the World Series for the first time in more than a decade, the decision to let Betances walk makes no sense. As someone who has watched the franchise treat Betances like crap in the past, the decision to let the team’s only bright spot between the 2012 ALCS and Gary Sanchez’s call-up in 2016 walk makes complete sense.
I will never understand why the Yankees decided to treat Betances like crap. After beating him in arbitration and taking a victory lap in the media following their saving of $2 million, Betances is the latest in a long line of homegrown Yankees who the Yankees have treated poorly when it comes time for a new contract. Maybe he was too accountable as a major league pitcher and too good of a person for their liking. Or maybe the Yankees could never get over Betances trying to receive $2 million he had more than earned when the team needed that money to put toward one of their failed free-agent signings.
It was easy for the Yankees to give A.J. Burnett a five-year, $82.5 million contract, eventually paying him to pitch for Pittsburgh for the final two years of the deal. They didn’t even blink when they bid against themselves in handing Jacoby Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract, for which he only played in games in four of the seven years before being released. Brian McCann? Here’s five years and $85 million, and we’ll pay you to play for the Astros for the final two. Carlos Beltran? How about $45 million for three years, and you can finish the contract in Texas. Right now, the Yankees are trying to get salary relief on the $17 million they owe J.A. Happ for 2020. It’s always been easy for the Yankees to overpay and hand out ill-advised free-agent contracts for other team’s free agents. But when it comes to paying their own, homegrown free agents, they have been nickel-and-diming for years.
Bernie Williams was seconds away from signing with the Red Sox and rewriting baseball history before George Steinbrenner to his modest salary demand. Mariano Rivera was allowed to meet with the Red Sox as a free agent despite being the best relief pitcher of all time. Derek Jeter was told to test the market as the team’s captain and everyday shortstop of 15 seasons. If the organization could treat 51, 42 and 2 so poorly, it should come as no surprise that Betances is no longer a Yankee. He didn’t have his best years with another team and he has been nothing but a model professional on and off the field.
Yes, Betances missed nearly all of last season due to a shoulder injury suffered while trying to rush through spring training. And yes, he suffered a freak Achilles injury in his only appearance of 2019, and there’s some cause for concern about paying a 32-year-old reliever who throws as hard as Betances and has for as long as he has and is coming off a lost season. But the Yankees’ finances allow for them to take these kinds of risks. The Yankees can afford to gamble that Betances is still the 2014-18 version of himself. Many, many times over the last two decades have the Yankees taken risks on injured pitchers with must less talent and nowhere near the track record of Betances. But those were always other pitchers from other teams whether it was Gabe White, Mark Prior or Pedro Feliciano. Rather than give Betances an extremely affordable deal and make what’s already the best bullpen in baseball even better, the Yankees allowed him to walk. And now, someone with the talent level of Jonathan Holder, Ben Heller, Stephen Tarpley or Luis Cessa will be in the Yankees’ bullpen because Betances isn’t.
There was no reason for the Yankees to not sign Betances. Believing they don’t need him because they have Aroldis Chapman, whose declining velocity and control and inability to put away hitters is frightening, Zack Britton, whose control is a real problem and isn’t who he once was, Adam Ottavino, who helped ruin the ALCS, Tommy Kahnle, who is a year removed from spending the season in the minors, or Chad Green, who was demoted last season for the worst stretch of relief appearances possibly ever, is more than risky. The Yankees might not need their excessive abundance of elite relievers on days when Cole pitches, but they’re still going to need them when James Paxton (less than 5 1/3 innings per start in 2019), Masahiro Tanaka (just over 5 2/3 innings per start in 2019), Luis Severino (will be coming off season-long shoulder and lat injuries) and Jordan Montgomery (will be returning from Tommy John surgery) pitch. (Or Happ if they’re unable to move him). The Yankees’ bullpen is deeper, better and more stable than any other bullpen in baseball, but that’s even more of a reason to make a strength stronger. They might not need their bullpen to win the division and beat up on what will once again be a mostly non-competitive league, but they will need it to win in October, as we once again just saw. Having to watch someone Tyler Lyons or Luis Cessa enter a playoff game because the Yankees are one elite reliever too short to get 27 outs in the postseason isn’t something I want to see.
I hate the Mets. But when Betances is called on to get the Mets out of a jam or hold a runner at third with less than two outs or protect a lead or nail down a save, I will be a Mets fan because I’m a Betances fan. Betances deserved better and he deserved to be part of what will be a championship-or-bust season. Trying to achieve the former and trying to avoid the latter for a 12th straight season is going to be that much harder without him.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!