Earlier this week, Aaron Boone told reporters Dellin Betances had recently started throwing bullpens and would soon ramp up his rehab. Fortunately for the Yankees, they’ve maintained one of the league’s best bullpens despite not having one of their top arms all season. It is believed Betances could make his return to the big leagues sometime this month.
His return to an already-strong bullpen is a definitely a great thing, but it might leave the Yankees in a bit of an awkward position moving forward. He’s a great reliever, but the Yankees have had a rock solid bullpen without him. Using the word “expendable” isn’t exactly appropriate for a player of Betances’ caliber, but right now, his future with the Yankees seems more uncertain than ever.
About a month before the season began, there were whispers around a possible Betances extension, and I wrote the Yankees should extend their hometown reliever before he becomes a free agent at season’s end. Not only has he anchored the Yankees’ bullpen in the post-Mariano Rivera years, but he has been one of the best relievers in baseball. Between 2014 and 2018, he led all relievers in innings pitched, was second in fWAR, eighth in ERA, and top-five in K% and FIP. His four All-Star Game selections in that time frame lead all Yankees too.
I also noted that Betances hadn’t seen any significant dip in his raw stuff. His fastball velocity and spin were just as good in 2018 as 2015. Plus, at that point, Betances had a perfectly clean bill of health. Few, if any, players on the Yankees seemed better suited for an extension. Then, as luck would have it, Betances went down with a right shoulder injury that’s kept him on the injured list for the entire season.
A healthy Betances makes any bullpen better, but his absence hasn’t necessarily slowed the Yankees’ bullpen down. Despite losing him, the bullpen has been worth more than a full win above the next closest team and leads all bullpens in K/9. In fact, the ‘pen has been so good this season, they’re actually on pace to surpass their record-breaking ZiPS projection for the second year in a row, and that projection factored in a healthy Betances.
For as nice as it has been to see the Yankees’ bullpen succeed without Betances, it makes his return and forthcoming contract negotiations a little bit awkward.
If Betances comes back and looks like the same pitcher Yankee fans have watched since 2014, then he could justifiably ask for a big pay day. Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman both signed five-year deals in the $80-$86 million range. Betances has been one of the league’s best relievers for half a decade. It would be within reason to see him ask to be compensated as such.
Given the team’s success this season without Betances and the fact they already have three relievers with big contracts, the front office could very easily feel comfortable letting him walk away to seek his big payday with another team. The Red Sox have a worse bullpen in every conceivable way, and look what they’ve done with Craig Kimbrel.
There’s the other possibility that Betances returns and just doesn’t perform to the level we’ve all become accustomed to. This scenario ends exactly the same way as the first. The Yankees thank Betances for his years of service and let him walk in free agency.
Neither seems particularly fair, but I’m unfortunately not in a position to do anything but complain. Yankee fans, including myself, spent years talking about “who will be Mariano Rivera’s heir,” and Dellin Betances fit that label more than anyone. He thrived during the mediocrity that was 2014, ‘15, and ‘16. He bounced back from an up-and-down 2017 and set a new career-high K% last season. We don’t know if Betances will be the same guy this year, but at least it seems like he’s feeling better:
Asked earlier if Dellin Betances felt at any point in spring training as healthy and strong as he does now, Dellin replied: "Hell no. I felt like shit in spring training."— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) May 31, 2019
Dellin Betances might be with a new team in 2020, but he might not. Given such uncertainty, I think the only rational thing to do is just win the World Series this year. That way, if Betances goes, he leaves the Bronx on top.