The Yankees are nearing the point at which even they must concede that playoff contention is not in the cards for 2016. Thus, we have begun running down possible trade partners the Yankees could deal with, and potential trade chips the team could deal away. One chip New York seems unlikely to cash, but one that would bring back a significant haul if they did, is Dellin Betances.
Betances has, as expected, helped form a spectacular bullpen triumvirate with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Miller and Chapman have garnered more attention regarding possible trades, but Betances has been just as good. His ERA is a bit higher than usual, at 2.60, but his 45.0% strikeout rate and 1.18 FIP are world-beating. He would lead all MLB relievers by a mile in strikeout rate if Miller and his 45.2% figure weren’t already at the top.
In fact, Betances might be the most appealing asset among the Yankees’ three ace relievers. His performance essentially matches that of his bullpen-mates, and he has developed something of a defined track record, having tossed 219 innings of 1.68 ERA ball between 2014 and 2016.
Not only that, but Betances’ age and contract status are enviable. At age 28, he is the youngest of the Yankees’ bullpen trio, and he doesn’t even become arbitration eligible until after this season, meaning he will only reach free agency after the 2019 campaign. Betances has everything a suitor could ask for; dominance, youth, and years of team control.
The market for Betances would no doubt be intense if the Yankees made him available. All the teams that have been linked to New York in pursuit of Miller and Chapman would almost certainly be interested in Betances (even teams that desire MIller/Chapman for their left-handedness can find solace in Betances and his career opposing OPS of .489 against lefties). Teams like the Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, and Giants, among others, have been rumored to be in the market for relief pitching, and likely would have plenty of interest in Betances’ services.
It’s hard to know exactly what a package for Betances would look like. Rarely are such dominant relievers dealt with so much team control remaining. Any return for Betances would have to be greater than a return for Chapman, given the disparity in contract status, and possibly even greater than the return for Miller, though their values are more similar, since Miller is under contract through 2018.
There simply isn’t much precedent for a deal involving a relief pitcher as good as Betances. In 2014, Miller himself was dealt at the deadline from Boston to Baltimore, in exchange for pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who was rated as a consensus top 70 prospect before 2014. Also in 2014, Huston Street was traded from the Padres to the Angels in exchange for four prospects, three of whom had been among the Angels’ top ten prospects at the time (though, it’s worth mentioning that the Angels’ farm system is renowned for its futility).
Those two deals are probably the best recent examples of what the top relief pitcher on the market fetches at the trade deadline, but neither Street nor Miller had the pedigree and contract status that Betances has now. Street was one and half years from free agency at the time of his trade, and Miller was a mere half season from signing with New York.
So, any deal for Betances would have to exceed those packages, both of which were fairly pricey in their own right. Such a high price is part of the reason why it is difficult to envision Betances being traded. The other reason is that his immense trade value means he is also immensely valuable to the Yankees. If many other teams would love the opportunity to acquire a pitcher as excellent as Betances, both for now and the future, the Yankees will probably ask themselves; why not just keep him?
Since he won’t be a free agent for three and a half years, keeping him is the most likely outcome. Even if the Yankees essentially give up on 2016, Betances can still help them all the way through 2019. If a team like the Cubs or Nationals comes knocking on the door with an enticing package of young players, then trading Betances should be a consideration. In the more likely scenario in which that offer doesn’t come along, it would be hard to fault New York too much for holding on to their right-handed bullpen monster for the long term.