By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Typically, teams try to avoid going to salary arbitration with players. It’s bad for business, really, for the members of a team’s management to sit in a room and list all of the negatives about a player on their roster, all in the name of saving a few bucks. More often than not, teams seek to find a middle ground with a player and agree to terms without the aid of meeting with an arbitrator.
But not the Yankees.
Not only did the Yankees opt for an arbitration hearing with reliever Dellin Betances over a disagreement of a measly $2 million. Nope — after winning the case, Yankees president Randy Levine decided to spike the football and taunt right in Betances’ face.
It was the equivalent of hitting a home run in an 11-4 ballgame in the middle of May, then bat-flipping and preening while casually sauntering around the base paths.
If Levine were an NFL player, he’d be flagged 15 yards for excessive celebration. But he’s not in the NFL. He didn’t hit a home run. He’s an MLB executive. So everyone’s just kind of wondering what in the world he’s thinking.
In case you missed it as it developed over the weekend, here’s what happened:
Betances wanted $5 million.
The Yankees only wanted to pay him $3 million.
They headed to arbitration. A panel ruled that Betances will make $3 million.
It could have ended there. It should have ended there. Even though $2 million is literally peanuts to an organization like the Yankees, it wouldn’t have been much of a story if the arbitration hearing ended and Levine kept his mouth shut. If Levine wanted to say anything, he could have said, “We’re happy to have that situation resolved and we look forward to another excellent season from Dellin, whom we consider to be one of the best bullpen arms in baseball.”
That would have been a nice thing to say! But no. Here’s what Levine said instead:
“What his agents did was make him a victim of a attempt to change a marketplace in baseball that has been well established for 30, 40 years. I feel bad for Dellin that he was used in that way by his agent.”
And more: Levine said the $5 million request was “over the top” and based on “very little sense of reality,” because Betances is a setup man and thus is not worthy of making closer money.
“[Betances wanting to be paid like a closer is] like me saying I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut,” Levine said … even though a relief pitcher with 22 saves on his career stat sheet is a lot nearer to being a closer than a team executive is to being an astronaut. “I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer, at least based on the statistics, not whether he could or couldn’t be.”
(Reminder: The Yankees signed their closer, Aroldis Chapman, for $86 million over five years. If Chapman is unavailable or gets injured, Betances will be called upon to fill the role for however long that may be. It might be one day, it might be two weeks, or it might be three months. Yet asking for $5 million instead of $3 million was deemed “over the top.” That’s the new Yankee Way.)
According to Betances’ agent, Levine’s role in the arbitration hearing was apparently to blame the relief pitcher for declining ticket sales:
“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.”
That’s not very nice! None of that is nice!
And as you might imagine, Dellin Betances did not like it! Not one bit!
“Even though I disagreed with the arbitrators’ decision, I was planning on putting everything behind me until I was aware of Randy Levine’s comments, saying I was a victim and this whole process,” Betances said at Steinbrenner Field. “Saying how much that they love me, but then they take me into a room and they trash me for about an hour and a half. I thought that was unfair for me, especially given I feel like I’ve done a lot for this organization. Especially in these last few years by taking the ball time after time.
“Whenever they needed me, I was there for them,” Betances continued. “I never said no. Whenever [Joe] Girardi said, ‘Can you pitch?’ I got it. And for me I felt like this whole process was unfair. We tried to come to middle ground and nothing really happened.”
Betances added: ”You’re just not going to get over it as easy.”
What a mess.
Again, this could have been solved so simply. The Yankees could have found a middle ground — I’m no mathematician, but $4 million seems fair — and handled this situation without having to sit in a room and list every negative feeling (and then some) about a very important player on their roster. And even if they were dead-set on heading to arbitration, they didn’t need the team president to come out and make statements about astronauts.
Instead, Levine decided to create a massive sideshow in order to save between $1 million and $2 million. They’ve insulted one of their more important players and likely guaranteed he will leave as soon as he can via free agency. They’ve managed to take over the tabloid back pages for negative reasons at a time of year when everything about baseball season is supposed to be optimistic.
It’s been Mismanagement 101. And it’s been spectacularly entertaining to watch from afar.
So thanks, Randy. Spring training is normally a dreadfully boring experience. Thanks for adding the entertainment factor.