Reports surfaced on Saturday morning that the Yankees beat Dellin Betances in his arbitration hearing. The right-hander will earn $3 million for the 2017 season, not the $5 million he suggested. On the surface, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Seven other players lost arbitration cases this offseason without need for further commentary. Caitlin’s post yesterday should have closed the book on the matter.
The Yankees, however, can’t get out of their own way. Moments after the decision became public, team president Randy Levine held a conference call with reporters. Instead of expressing relief that the process is over, or showing gratitude for having an elite pitcher on the team, Levine used the opportunity to lambast Betances and his agent.
Levine’s unsolicited comments ranged from braggadocio, to spiteful, and then to Theatre of the Absurd:
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
"$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
RL: "It's like me saying, I'm not the president of the Yankees, I'm an astronaut. I'm not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer."— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
To make matters worse, Betances’ agent Jim Murray told Ken Rosenthal the following:
“With regards to Dellin, it was very ironic to hear the Yankees’ president express his love and affection when he spent the only portion of the hearing, to which he contributed to, was calling this player by the wrong first name. It is Dellin, for the record. 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.”
It’s hard to believe that a senior front office executive would speak so poorly of a player in his own organization, especially a star like Betances. Reveling in the arbitration victory is like the punch Muhammad Ali never gave George Foreman when he was falling. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior has become par for the course with the Yankees. The team’s leadership is woefully tone-deaf on these matters.
In the time since Levine’s conference call, I’ve though about what it means for the organization overall. It became abundantly clear that the team has a public relations problem, and a serious one at that. While the Yankees might seem like a brand that is immune to PR damage, this incident highlights the case to the contrary.
Betances himself took the first step in swiping back against the Yankees. He addressed reporters after the Levine call to express his discontent. "I was planning on putting everything behind me until I was aware of Randy Levine's comments saying I was the victim in this whole process and saying how much they love me, but then they take me in a room, trash me for about an hour-and-a-half," Betances explained.
He also indicated that he would be less inclined to take on a heavy workload for a team that doesn’t value him. Considering Betances sits in the upper-echelons of elite relief pitching, that’s a problem for the Yankees. Since his debut in 2014, Betances has accrued 8.5 fWAR. That tops all relievers. His 14.28 K/9 ranks third and his 247 innings pitched again leads the league.
Betances is one of the few redeeming qualities of the Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre for nearly a half-decade now. He is one of the club’s pillars of success. Losing him as a workhorse severely undercuts the team’s ability to compete. If he was reduced to a one-inning specialist because of ability or injury, that’s one thing. Having him reduced to that role because the team president doesn’t know when to shut his mouth is utterly inexcusable.
The rub here is that Levine’s comments don’t only apply to Betances. They send a message to the rest of the Yankees’ young talent. Considering the team is in a quasi-rebuild, that’s rather significant. The front office’s treatment of one of their star players should raise concerns to the likes of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Clint Frazier. The team went out of their way to sign Aroldis Chapman while simultaneously lowballing Betances.
Homegrown Yankees are expected to treat playing for the club as a privilege. They’re taught to respect the club’s legacy and heritage. Respect, however, is a two-way street. The front office should treat their talent with the same courtesy and professionalism they expect the players to show. Leadership, which is spoken so highly of in the Yankees’ circles, was clearly absent when Levine picked up that telephone.
This isn’t the first time that the Yankees front office stirred up PR controversy. Just last season Lonn Trost made his outrageous comments on the team’s ticket policy. Levine openly and ardently expressed his support of then-candidate Donald Trump. There’s also the entire mishandling of domestic violence in lieu of the Chapman trade and subsequent free agent signing.
All of these items distract from the team’s mission in fielding a competitive club. Jason Zillo, Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations for the Yankees, should be doing his best to contain these errant front office rants. If he’s being overruled, then the problem is all the worse.
Most of these controversies either directly proceed from Levine, or receive his implicit support. He is the problem. While separating Levine from the Yankees is unlikely, the organization should bar him from acting as a spokesperson, a la Hank Steinbrenner. The consequences of Levine’s loudmouth ways are beginning to manifest. They will only get worse if he remains unchecked.
Data courtesy of Fangraphs.