The Dellin Betances fiasco may lead to the arbitration system finally getting an update

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration and will pay him $3M this season instead of the $5M he was seeking. That $3M represents a record salary for a setup man in his first year of arbitration. No other setup man received even $2M as far as I can tell. That $5M Betances and his camp were requested is closer money.

The arbitration system, which has been around since 1974, is pretty old-fashioned. From what I understand there are a list of approved statistics each side can use to state their case, and for relievers like Betances, there is no more valuable stat than saves. Dellin has spent the first three years of his career as an incredibly valuable multi-inning setup man, which is why he went to arbitration with only 22 saves. That cost him.

Bullpen usage is changing around baseball and has been for a few years now. Starters are throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, putting that much more emphasis on the bullpen. High-end relievers like Betances are in very high demand, which is why the Yankees were able to get such great prospect packages for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the deadline last year. Great relievers are more valuable than ever.

Following the arbitration ruling Saturday, Yankees president Randy Levine called a wholly unnecessary conference call to rip Betances and his agent Jim Murray. It was pretty ridiculous, though I’ve said all I have to say about that. What Levine did do — aside from upset Betances, of course — is draw attention to the outdated absurdity of the arbitration system as it pertains to relievers. Ken Rosenthal put it best:

Saves? Really? Somewhere in the baseball universe there is a place where saves are still viewed as a primary measure of a reliever’s performance? A place, no less, where it is determined how a reliever gets paid?

The Betances arbitration ruling, which likely would have blown over and been a one-day story had Levine not opened his mouth, is the kind of high-profile case that could spur the MLBPA into action. They could seek an update to the arbitration rules, making them more fair to relievers given their increased importance. After all, in real world value, Betances is a heck of a lot closer to a $5M a year reliever than a $3M a year reliever. (He’s more like a $17M a year reliever, but I digress.)

There are two issues with updating the arbitration system. For starters, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement just took effect, which means we’re still five years away from MLB and MLBPA being able to rewrite the rules. This isn’t something that can happen right away. Arbitration is collectively bargained and the owners have no reason to open the new CBA and change arbitration mid-term. Any changes will have to wait.

Secondly, how do you go about properly valuing relievers in arbitration? Looking at WAR is only slightly better than looking at saves in my opinion, mostly because I think WAR undervalues relievers in general, and especially high-leverage monsters like Betances. Here are three stats I’d like to see incorporated into arbitration for relievers:

  1. Leverage Index: Leverage Index tells us how important the situation is based on game state. Entering the eighth inning with a one-run lead and a man on second with no outs is a heck of a lot different than starting the eighth with a four-run lead, even though it’s still the eighth inning. Here is the 2016 Leverage Index leaderboard.
  2. Strikeout Rate: Pretty straight forward. The single best thing a pitcher can do is strike the hitter out, because it takes the defense right out of the equation. When you’re pitching in the late innings, not letting the other team put the ball in play is a pretty great recipe for success.
  3. Inherited Runners Stranded: This is a tricky one because the closers who start the ninth inning with a clean slate don’t inherit many runners. Middle relievers and setup men usually get the call in the middle of an inning. Clearly though, stranding inherited runners is important.

I’m not sure how you can best evaluate relievers in arbitration. I do know saves, a terrible stat that influences managerial decisions (!), isn’t the best way to go. Betances is clearly one of the best relievers in baseball and he should be compensated like one, which means closer money. The same way Miller was paid like a top reliever when he hit free agency with one career save.

The Betances-Levine stuff never should have happened Saturday. The arbitration process causes enough grief as it is. Levine piled on top of it and created more bad blood. If there’s anything good that can come out of it — good for the players, that is, not teams — it’s that maybe it created such a stir that the union will push to change how relievers are judged through arbitration. It’s a little too late for Betances to benefit from any changes, though at least this entire mess won’t go for naught.

Think About the Future

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

One of the few movies from my childhood that still holds up is Tim Burton’s “Batman” from the late eighties. For whatever reason, a line that stuck out to me was one from Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier (not yet the Joker) near the end of the film’s first act. Just before becoming the Joker, he yells to a corrupt cop, “Hey, Eckhardt, think about the future!” before shooting him. The Yankees have done a pretty good job thinking about the future. They’ve shown restraint with long-term contracts (the Aroldis Chapman deal notwithstanding) and, last season, committed to the future by trading away Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran to help revitalize the farm. They also gave significant playing time to Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, and look poised to do the same this year with those guys, and some pitchers (Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, etc.). Then this happened and I’m tempted to yell to Randy Levine, “Hey, Randy! Think about the future!” (Please note that I do not want to shoot–nor do I want you to shoot–Randy Levine)

That the Yankees beat Dellin Betances at an arbitration hearing is nothing too special. Though the Yankees have rarely gone to arbitration, this thing is standard operating procedure for the rest of baseball. It’s frustrating that a team as rich as the Yankees was petty with one of their best and most popular players over two million dollars, especially considering just how rarely the Yankees hand out pre-arb/pre-FA contracts, but that’s the business. That the team president, though, essentially took a victory lap to dunk on Betances and his agent is appalling. The arbitration process itself is awkwardly acrimonious and contentious enough without an executive and agent airing the hearing’s dirty laundry for the fans to see and for the player to relive.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Maybe the Yankees aren’t used to this sort of thing. After all, it’d been a long time since they’d been to an arbitration hearing and they haven’t had a lot of young players worth fighting over. They were smart enough to lock up Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano to contracts as to avoid this ugly process, but what Levine said gives me great concern going forward.

For the first time in a while, the Yankees are going to have a glut of young players and they’ll all be reaching arbitration around the same time. I don’t want to read minds, but it’s hard to imagine that guys like Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino, and Aaron Judge have comfortable feelings about the arbitration process and their bosses after Levine’s outburst yesterday. And, frankly, that’s the best case scenario. The worst case–from the player’s point of view–is that it’ll scare them into not going to arbitration and just take whatever the Yankees offer. After all, who’d want to be wrongly blamed for slagging ticket sales and missing the playoffs? Maybe, Randy, just maybe, ticket sales are down because the prices are too high and the team is in transition. Maybe, Randy, just maybe, the team hasn’t made the playoffs much recently because of design.

The organization has more or less gotten it right with their plan to rebuild and look forward. However, comments like the ones Levine made yesterday are harmful. While they may not do much in terms of dissuading free agents to come play for the Yankees, there’s still an insidiousness to them. They affect the players who have the least leverage in the game–not counting minor leaguers–whom the Yankees can “exploit” for cheap before not signing them to big contracts. In a year plus that has seen Lonn Trost bash non-rich fans (exactly a year ago yesterday!), Brian Cashman exploit domestic violence for a cheap trade, and Hal Steinbrenner downplay fan concerns about said domestic violence, this is just the cherry on top of a very unappetizing sundae. The past is the past, and that’s where these comments should stay, but, please, Yankee front office, think about the future.

Randy Levine rips Betances after arbitration hearing, says he “doesn’t have the stats” to ask for $5M

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Earlier today it was announced the Yankees have beaten Dellin Betances in their arbitration case. The three-person panel sided with the team following yesterday’s hearing, which means Betances will earn $3M next year, not the $5M he was seeking. That $3M is a record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible setup man.

Because beating Betances in arbitration apparently wasn’t enough, team president Randy Levine jumped on a conference call Saturday and ripped Betances and his agent Jim Murray for what he considered an unrealistic salary request. A few of the highlights:





Murray told Joel Sherman that Levine didn’t even pronounce Betances’ name correctly during the arbitration hearing, calling him Dylan instead of Dellin. “The Yankees hid behind the system. It is really unfortunate,” said Murray to Sherman.

First things first: the Yankees were not wrong to take Betances to an arbitration hearing. They felt he was worth one number, he felt he was worth another, and arbitration is a collective bargained part of the process. It’s not the team’s fault the arbitration system is archaic and overvalues saves.

Arbitration is an unfortunate part of the game, but it is part of the game. There’s a reason the two sides usually try like hell to avoid it. What is not part of the game, however, is holding a conference call to trash one of your best and most beloved players. That’s total garbage. Betances never once has complained about his role and his heavy workload, and he does a ton of stuff with the team in the community. The guy has been a model employee.

Beating Betances in arbitration should have been enough. Once that happened, the Yankees should have moved forward and worked to repair their relation with Dellin. Instead, Levine went out of his way to kick dirt on Betances and minimize his accomplishments. I’m sure all the young players the team is trying to develop noticed that. The Yankees couldn’t just win and be happy with it.

Then again, I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything different from an organization in which the COO says poor people shouldn’t sit in expensive seats and the owner says we should all just forget about Aroldis Chapman’s history. What a joke.

Heyman: Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the arbitration panel has sided with the Yankees in their case against Dellin Betances. Betances will earn $3M this coming season rather than the $5M he was seeking. He’ll be in Spring Training today after spending the last few days away from camp, with the team’s blessing. It’s not uncommon for players to wait until their arbitration case is resolved before reporting to camp.

Betances was eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and the $5M request means he was looking to be paid like a top closer. Last year some pretty good closers like Cody Allen, Jeurys Familia, and Hector Rondon all signed for roughly $4M in their first trip through arbitration. Saves matter in arbitration and Betances doesn’t have many, yet he was seeking more than those guys.

Now, that said, the $3M award is still a record for a setup man going through arbitration for the first time. By a lot too. I can’t find another non-closer who signed for even $2M in his first year of arbitration. Betances blew the previous record away. Billy Witz has some details on yesterday’s arbitration hearing:

On Friday, Betances arrived at the Vinoy Renaissance shortly before 9 a.m., with a half dozen or so advisers, including his agent, Jim Murray. Several members of Betances’ team carried armfuls of thick white binders, and at one point, someone warned the 6-foot-8 pitcher not to bump his head on a low-hanging ceiling beam.

A few minutes later, the Yankees’ contingent — about 10 strong, headed by the team president, Randy Levine, and including General Manager Brian Cashman and the assistant general managers, Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman — entered.

But as (Betances) waited afterward in the lobby of the hotel where the hearing was held, several of his advisers could be heard nearby grousing about a Yankees tactic during the hearing — namely, focusing on Betances’ slow delivery to home plate, which allowed base runners to steal 21 bases against him last season in 21 attempts.

The $2M difference in salary figures doesn’t seem like much, especially for a big payroll team like the Yankees, but arbitration uses the player’s previous year salary as a base, so it carries over. That $2M this year will equal at least $6M in savings in Betances’ three arbitration years, but likely more given how raises are determined. The savings are pretty considerable. These are real dollars.

Reports indicate the Yankees and Betances discussed a multi-year contract before filing their salary arbitration figures. Cashman said the two sides were simply too far apart to settle somewhere in the middle, which is why they went to a hearing. This was New York’s first arbitration hearing since 2008, when they beat Chien-Ming Wang. Their last hearing before that was with Mariano Rivera in 2000. They won that one too.

I had a feeling the Yankees would win because a) they were already offering a record salary for a setup man in his first year of arbitration, and b) Betances was seeking an enormous raise usually reserved for top tier closers, only he didn’t have the saves. Betances and his camp had more convincing to do, basically. I’m not too surprised the three-person panel sided with the Yankees here.

Hopefully there are no hard feelings — arbitration can be pretty ugly because the team is up there detailing the player’s shortcomings — and the Yankees and Betances can move on with business as usual. The business side of the game can be unpleasant at times.

Open Thread: February 14th Camp Notes

Spring Training has begun. Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today — the position players are due to arrive Saturday — and Joe Girardi held his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning. Part of the press conference is above. The rest of the videos are right here. As expected, Girardi all but confirmed Masahiro Tanaka will be the Opening Day starter. That was the only real news from the press conference. Otherwise it was the usual. Here is this year’s first set of camp notes:

  • Dellin Betances has been excused from workouts until his salary situation is resolved. He and the Yankees are scheduled to have their arbitration hearing Friday. The ruling is usually handed down the following day. Next Wednesday, February 22nd, is the mandatory reporting date for players participating in the World Baseball Classic, like Betances. [Brendan Kuty]
  • Luis Severino dropped ten pounds over the winter — the Yankees thought he was too bulky last year, remember — and acknowledged he needs to emphasize his changeup. He’s made a slight change to his mechanics and now breaks his hands closer to his body, which he said helps his changeup. “I came here to be a starter,” said Severino. [Jack Curry, Billy Witz]
  • CC Sabathia is perfectly healthy following his minor offseason knee surgery. It was a routine cleanup procedure that was scheduled well in advance. Sabathia reiterated he intends to continue pitching beyond this season as long as he’s healthy. “If I’m healthy, I’m going to play as long as I can,” he said. [Meredith Marakovits, Curry]
  • Since Chad Jennings is no longer covering the Yankees, we might not get daily reports on who is throwing bullpen sessions and hitting in the cage and whatnot. That’s a shame. Severino and Adam Warren threw live batting practice yesterday, so they’re ahead of schedule. (Warren seems to be ahead of schedule every year.) Tanaka threw a bullpen session. [George King]
  • The Yankees have added righty J.R. Graham and lefty James Reeves to their list of non-roster players, the team announced. I didn’t even realize Graham was still in the organization. I thought he became a minor league free agent after last season. Huh. Anyway, there are now 65 players in big league camp.
  • The Chris Carter signing is still not official — someone will have to be dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for him — but he is in camp and has a locker. He’ll wear No. 48. [Erik Boland]
  • Here are the Spring Training uniform numbers, via Bryan Hoch. Nos. 13, 21, and 25 were not issued. I have no idea what the Yankees are planning to do with No. 21 long-term.
  • Among this year’s guest instructors are Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Lee Mazzilli, and Stump Merrill. [Hoch]
  • And finally, the renovations at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa are still underway. Here’s a photof the place at the moment, via Mike Mazzeo.

Good to have the camp notes back, isn’t it? They’ll get more exciting in the coming days and weeks, I promise. Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Devils and Islanders are playing, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about anything that isn’t religion or politics right here.

Saturday Links: Betances, Tanaka, Proposed Rule Changes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is the penultimate weekend without baseball games until November. Pretty great, isn’t it? The Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game two weeks from yesterday. Thank goodness. Anyway, here’s some news and notes to check out this weekend.

Yankees, Betances set for arbitration hearing Friday

According to George King, the Yankees and Dellin Betances are scheduled to have their arbitration hearing this coming Friday, February 17th, in St. Petersburg. “Nothing has changed, we haven’t talked. We have no intention of talking. It’s not close. Somebody else will make the decision,” said Brian Cashman. Betances is seeking $5M while the Yankees countered with $3M, which, as far as I can tell, would still be a record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible setup man.

Since the arbitration hearing is Friday, chances are the three-person panel will announce their ruling Saturday morning. That’s usually how it goes. The hearing is one day and the ruling is announced the next. Maybe they’ll wait until Monday because it’s the next business day. Eh, whatever. Each side will state their case at the hearing and the panel will pick either the $5M or $3M for Dellin’s salary in 2017. Nothing in-between. My guess is the Yankees win. (There have been six arbitration hearings around the league so far and each side has won three, for what it’s worth.)

Tanaka not thinking about opt-out

Earlier this week, Masahiro Tanaka told Dan Martin he hasn’t put much thought into whether he will use his opt-out clause after the season. “Obviously, I’m aware of what my contract says, but it’s something I put aside going into the season,” he said. “You can’t really be thinking about that while you go through the season. I’m really focused on this season. When the time comes after the season, then I’ll probably have a chance to think about that more.”

Back in 2012, we heard CC Sabathia say pretty much the exact same thing when his opt-out was looming. It’s the best possible answer, right? “I’m only focused on trying to win, not my contract.” That’s what everyone wants to hear. These guys are human beings though. Of course Tanaka is aware a big season would mean a shot at a(nother) monster contract. We’ve been through this before with Sabathia. The opt-out is going to be a thing all year.

MLB considering new extra innings rules

According to Jeff Passan, MLB will test new and impossibly stupid extra innings rules in rookie ball this season, assuming Joe Torre, the league’s chief baseball officer, signs off. Under the new rule, a runner would be placed at second base at the start of every inning after the ninth. The goal is, obviously, to cut down on extra innings and eliminate games that last long into the night.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Torre. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time. It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”

One, position players pitching is fun! Two, it doesn’t happen all that often anyway. And three, they have this rule in many amateur leagues and international tournaments. Every inning plays out the same: they start with a runner at second, the first batter bunts him to third, and the second batter is intentionally walked to set up the double play. Every single time. It’s terrible and horrible and I hope this rule change never ever ever comes to MLB.

Now, that said, I could understand implementing this in the minors as a way to avoid overusing pitchers. Maybe make them play 12 innings, allowing each team to go through the lineup one more time, then put a runner at second? This should never come to MLB though. Forget that. I like that commissioner Rob Manfred is open to new ideas. That’s great. This one though? Bad. No thanks.

MLB proposed changes to intentional walks, strike zone

In addition to the stupid extra innings rule, MLB has formally proposed changes to intentional walks and the strike zone, reports Jayson Stark. The ball is now in the MLBPA’s court. Neither side can implement a rule change unilaterally. Both MLB and the MLBPA have to sign off. For what it’s worth, Passan hears there’s no chance the players will approve any changes to the strike zone.

MLB proposed raising the bottom of the zone approximately two inches, which would undoubtedly increase offense. Jon Roegele’s research has shown the strike zone has increased downward in recent years. So not only are more low pitches being called strikes, but now hitters have to protect against them too, and pitches down below the knees are hard to hit with authority. Raising the zone would mean more hitter’s counts and more pitches in hittable locations.

The intentional walk rule change is simple: rather than making the pitcher throw four pitches, they issue a signal and the runner is sent to first automatically. I hate it. Intentional walks are a competitive play. Make the pitcher and catcher complete it. Pitchers are prone to losing the zone after intentional walks, plus we see a handful of wild pitches each year. Gary Sanchez did this last year:

There were 932 intentional walks in 2,428 games last season. It works out to one every 46.1 innings or so. I get MLB is looking to improve the pace of play, but this won’t help much. Intentional walks are too infrequent to make a meaningful change to the time of game. Want to improve pace of play? Cut down on mound visits. The catcher gets one per inning, per pitcher. That’s my proposed solution.

Ten Yankees among 2017 World Baseball Classic rosters

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Earlier this evening, the various World Baseball Classic rosters were announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. Bits and pieces of the rosters have leaked over the last several months. Now they’re all official.

A total of ten Yankees, including three-sevenths of their projected Opening Day bullpen, will participate in the tournament. Here are the full rosters (PDF link) and here are the various Yankees:

Michael Pineda was listed on a version of the Dominican Republic roster that leaked earlier today, but he wasn’t on the final roster. Huh. Severino is part of the Dominican Republic’s “Designated Pitcher Pool” and won’t play in the first round. Teams can add two pitchers from their DPP after each round.

Bleier is on the DPP for Israel, and since they’re not expected to make it out of the first round, chances are he won’t leave Spring Training. Everyone else is on the WBC active roster. Gallegos is ostensibly competing for a big league bullpen spot, and I can’t help but wonder if being away from the Yankees will hurt his chances.

I kinda had a feeling Clippard would sneak on to the Team USA roster. They were never going to get all their top relievers, and he figured to be among the second tier arms they turned to. Clippard will join former Yankees Andrew Miller and David Robertson in the Team USA bullpen. That’ll be fun. Bring them back with you, Tyler.

Cuba doesn’t allow expatriates to represent the country, so no Aroldis Chapman in the WBC. Gary Sanchez declined an invitation to play for the Dominican Republic because he wants to spend his first Spring Training as the starting catcher learning the pitch staff and whatnot. Masahiro Tanaka also declined to play for Japan.

Aside from those guys, the only other players in the Yankees organization who I thought might sneak on to a WBC roster were Luis Cessa (Mexico), Evan Rutckyj (Canada), and Carlos Vidal (Colombia). Vidal was on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round last spring, but has since being dropped.

The 16-team tournament begins March 6th and will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full WBC schedule.