Last spring, there were reports of the Yankees discussing an extension with Dellin Betances before his shoulder issue happened, keeping him out of the entire 2019 season aside from facing (and striking out) two batters in September. In what was his first time to finally cash in on being the best reliever in baseball over the last five years, Betances had a season-crushing shoulder injury followed by a season-ending Achillies injury.
You can’t help but feel bad for a guy who has done nothing other than dominate the late innings of Yankees games while relievers of much lesser ability have signed eight-figure deals, and when it was his chance at one of those eight-figure deals, it was taken away from him. No, Betances isn’t hurting for money, given the the $16.7 million he has made in his major league career, but that total represents close to what he would be getting per season now if not for the injuries. Over the five previous seasons, Betances appeared in 349 games, pitching 373 1/3 innings with 607 strikeouts, a 2.22 ERA and a 1.108 WHIP, allowing just 5.3 hits-per-nine innings with an astounding 14.6 strikeouts-per-nine. Absolutely ridiculous numbers from the best reliever in baseball.
Betances has been my favorite Yankee since Number 2 retired and as a native New Yorker and homegrown prospect who has always said and done the right things, it’s hard not to like him (unless you’re Randy Levine). He was the lone consistent bright spot in the dark years of 2014-16 and pitched in every role asked of him for both Joe Girardi and Aaron Boone. He deserved better than to have his free agency ruined and now he deserves better than settling for a one-year or rebuilding deal somewhere other than the Bronx.
The Yankees put themselves up against or over the third luxury-tax threshold by signing Gerrit Cole, depending on what happens with trying to move J.A. Happ’s ill-advised contract and $17 million 2020 salary and the Jacoby Ellsbury contract grievance, which most likely won’t be resolved for a long, long time. But after going out and getting “their guy” in Cole for the first time since they signed CC Sabathia 11 years ago, the Yankees can’t now go back to their penny-pinching ways which cost them several championship opportunities over the last decade. If the Yankees want to put together the best possible roster for 2020, that roster includes Betances.
There’s 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 all the more 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.
It won’t surprise me if the Yankees let Betances sign elsewhere. Giving Cole $324 million means they have to cut costs in other places, even though they truly don’t. Not signing Betances because it’s a chance to save a few dollars with the idea Jonathan Holder or Ben Heller or some other fringe major leaguer can fill a bullpen role is a mistake. After signing Cole, I thought the Yankees were done making obvious mistakes. Not signing Betances would be an obvious mistake.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!