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Dellin Betances and baseball’s broken system

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Betances’ devastating injury could ruin his chances at a big contract that he already deserved.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to do my best not to break out into an all-out rant here, as that was always saved for the great Greg Kirkland (who is hopefully enjoying blogger retirement), but man, the Dellin Betances news is so upsetting that I just might not be able to hold back this time.

First, the latest Betances injury is simply devastating for a player who worked all season to get back to health and help the Yankees in their quest for a World Series. A freak Achilles injury, owing to a seemingly harmless hop on the mound during his first and only appearance of the season, has ended the big righty’s season. Even worse, it has possibly extinguished his hopes of a big free agent contract that, quite frankly, he deserved years before his age-31 season.

Prior to this season, Betances avoided arbitration with a $7.25-million deal, his last before finally hitting free agency, where he could have at last earned a contract commensurate with his market value. Now, that contract may never come, despite the fact that Betances has been one of the most valuable relievers in all of baseball for his entire career.

Betances earned four straight All-Star nods from 2014-2017, and through those four seasons, his yearly strikeout totals were four of the top-10 highest totals in all of baseball. The only player to post a higher strikeout total in one season was Josh Hader in 2018, when he struck out 143 batters. Betances logged more total strikeouts than any of reliever from the start of the 2014 season to the end of 2018, and in only two of those years did he make more than $507,500.

Prior to the 2017 season, after Betances’ third straight All-Star season in which he struck out 126 batters in 73 innings, he was infamously dragged through the mud by team president Randy Levine after Betances lost an arbitration case over $2 million. Two. Million. Dollars. Instead of giving Betances, the team’s most valuable bullpen arm, $5 million, Levine and the Yanks gave him $3 million. Levine said Betances’ pay request “had no bearings in reality”. Basically, the head of the Yankees decided that because Betances wasn’t a closer, he didn’t deserve the extra $2 million, which is the Yankees’ pay equivalent of impulse-buying a pack of gum at the local supermarket.

Let’s not forget that later that year, Betances DID become the closer after Aroldis Chapman got hurt, and Betances responded by pitching 9 23 scoreless innings, recording 19 strikeouts and six saves. Still, through his incredible career, he’s only made a total of $18,385,526 through his eight seasons, per Spotrac. He should have been guaranteed far in excess of that total this winter, but that payday is in deep trouble now.

This, of course, represents one of the biggest problems facing MLB today. Players are breaking into the major leagues and becoming stars at incredibly young ages, and they deserve to be paid before they hit free agency deep into their careers. How can Betances be restricted from the free market eight seasons into his career ? Shouldn’t young stars be able to get paid based on their star-studded seasons, like Betances’ from 2014 to 2018? Instead, players are told they’re not worth relatively small salaries in ugly arbitration hearings, despite all numbers demonstrating that they are among the most valuable players on the team. Betances should have already been paid, and now, thanks to an incredibly unfortunate injury, he may never get what he truly deserved.

This problem doesn’t start and end with Betances. Gleyber Torres, on track for a 40-homer season at just 22 years old, won’t hit free agency until 2025. Sure, the Yanks can extend him and avoid arbitration, but that’s not guaranteed. So, one of the brightest young stars in baseball won’t have an opportunity at a big contract until he’s almost 30. That’s simply unfair, and it hurt Betances in the worst way this season, though it should have never been this way.