Back in February, Tyler Norton wrote that the Yankees have a PR problem named Randy Levine. This commentary came on the heels of Randy Levine gloating about winning a seemingly normal arbitration battle against Dellin Betances.
Dellin Betances, who has been one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball since his breakout 2014 season, went to arbitration asking for a $5 million salary. Considering that they just handed Aroldis Chapman $17.2 million, he was not asking for the moon. The Yankees countered at $3 million and won the arbitration battle.
As Tyler pointed out in his article, that should have been the end of the story. Everyone goes on. For some unknown reason, Randy Levine decided that wasn’t enough.
I don’t know how or why Levine still has a job as the Yankees’ President. Even if he’s good at the non-baseball aspect of it, the team really should make it so he doesn’t speak to the media because it almost never ends well. Anyway, Levine spoke.
Randy Levine said that $3 million should be a "great victory for Dellin Betances," and his $5M request "had no bearings in reality."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
“Dear player who is one of the best at his craft, be realistic!”
"$5M goes to elite closers. Pitchers who pitch the 9th inn and have a lot of saves. Dellin didn't have that record. He never did." - Levine— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
This one is my favorite. “$5 million goes to elite closers” - Team that handed an elite closer $17.5 million. Now I’d like to know, what does this make Chapman? Super Ultra Closer 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha is one possibility. Either that or he just admitted that they got swindled out of $12.5 million, because if Chapman is “just” an elite closer, they could’ve gotten one for far less. That’s just bad business, Yankees.
Then there’s the whole argument that elite closers are defined as pitchers who “have a lot of saves.” Now let’s rewind a bit to 2016. The Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs on July 25th. Andrew Miller then became the closer again, until July 31st when he was traded to Cleveland. Then what happened?
Surely Chasen Shreve became the de facto closer, right? Not like Betances could handle it. Oh wait, it was Betances who moved into the closer’s role. That’s where he proved he doesn’t have a “closer’s mentality,” right?
What’s that? He pitched...well? No way! Nine saves, 25 strikeouts, 1 earned run, over 14 games. If that’s not elite, I really don’t know what is. Yes, from that point on things got ugly for Betances. No one is denying that. What I am here to deny is that it had anything to do with “closer’s mentality.” Once again, I’ll turn to Tyler Norton for the assist: Betances was running on fumes.
The Yankees used a few bad games to not only defeat Betances in arbitration, but to come out and throw him under the bus and insult him after the fact. Per Betances’ agent Jim Murray:
“He then proceeded to blame Dellin for the Yankees’ declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history while trying to bully the panel, saying something to the effect that the sky will fall if they rule for the player.”
He’s good enough to close, except for when it benefits the Yankees’ pockets. Sure, this is “just business.” That doesn’t make their handling of the situation okay. Why am I bringing all this up again? Well because once again, Dellin Betances is good enough to close for the Yankees.
Chapman hit the 10-day disabled list on May 14th with left rotator cuff inflammation. This is a big blow to a Yankees team that is surprisingly in first place. Luckily, the Yankees have the ability to handle this blow better than most other teams in the league. They have Dellin Betances. Now Betances is once again good enough to close for the Yankees.
FanRag’s Jon Heyman spoke to Randy Levine about this development. In what might be the most shocking Yankee news, Levine did not say anything terrible. However, what he did say is absolutely precious (please note my sarcasm).
“He’s going to do great,” said Levine. “He’s ready. I have full confidence he’ll do a great job.”
Oh? I wonder what changed between February and now?
“That was arbitration, based on the past. But he’s ready to do it now.”
You’re right, Mr. Levine. Dellin Betances was never elite before. Is he now though?
Would you look at that? He’s pitching like he’s never pitched before! He’s good enough to close! Wait, no. He’s pitching exactly like he has before. Shocking. Now it’s up to Betances to go out and pitch exactly like he is pitching right now.
If I were Betances, I would refuse to close. I’d say something along the lines of “I thought I’m not good enough?” And yes, I realize that I’m saying this bravely from behind my computer screen and not as someone actually in that position. Betances, though, is a better person that I am. He’s not making a big deal out of what’s happened.
Said Betances: “I don’t have to prove anything. I just have to do my job.”
Of course Betances isn’t publicly going to make a big deal out of anything. He just wants to help his team win. I can’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on in his head, but I have to imagine that at least part of him has a chip on his shoulder, as he should.
He may not say it, he may not even think it, so I’ll say it for him: Betances needs to be as close to perfect as possible in this stretch. If he falters even a little bit, he’s going to give the Yankees more ammo. If he falters even a little bit, the false “Betances doesn’t have a closer’s mentality” narrative will continue. The Yankees would certainly use that as ammo against him when it comes time to talk 2018 salary.
If he doesn’t falter, though? He’s the one that will have the ammo. He will show the Yankees and Yankee fans that he does indeed have a “closer’s mentality.”
*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference