Dellin Betances’ Year in the Injury Wilderness [2019 Season Review]

Dellin Betances started 2019 in a contract year and a key lynchpin of the Yankees’ bullpen. He was the team’s best reliever in 2018, just as he had been often in the past, and seemed poised to put together one more big season before hitting free agency.

That obviously didn’t happen.

The Long and Winding Rehab Road

Betances has often started Spring Training slow. Typically, his radar gun readings have been on the lower side in February and March and even into April as he still gets geared up for the season.

But that went to the extreme in 2019. The then-30-year-old reliever had radar gun readings on his fastball in the high 80s and low 90s, mostly topping out at 92 mph. Even in March regular season games in 2017 and 2018, he was averaging over 97 mph on his heater.

Still, Betances was hopeful that this was the normal way of things when speaking to the media. “I hope so. I think I still have about four [spring training] games. Obviously, not there yet. See how it goes the next few games,” Betances told the New York Post. “Mostly every spring it takes me a little while.”

A day after those comments, the Yankees made it official: Betances would start the season on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. There was worry that he tried to rush his work after getting to camp late due to the birth of his child (a worthwhile reason to miss a week of camp).

When people question the Yankees’ strength and conditioning processes as well as their rehab protocols, the recoveries of Betances and Luis Severion from their spring shoulder injuries come to mind. Shortly after the season started, the team discovered that he had a bone spur in his shoulder and he was promptly shut down for three more weeks.

The team had apparently known he’d had the bone spur since high school while Betances did not know, though it had never caused inflammation before.

Just when Betances was ramping back up in June, he suffered a strain a lat strain during his throwing program. This setback nearly cost him the full season.

One Game and Poof

Luckily, time didn’t run out on Betances. He recovered from both setbacks and ultimately began the rehab process anew. By the beginning of September, he was ready for game action and made three one-inning appearances for the Trenton Thunder during the Eastern League postseason.

Betances wasn’t perfect in those games — Over three innings, he allowed three hits, a homer, two walks and a hit batter while striking out four — but he was ready enough to get back to the Major Leagues.

On Sept. 15 in Toronto, he debuted. The long-awaited return for Betances ostensibly went well. He struck out the two batters he faced — one on his classic curveball — and his fastball averaged just under 95 mph.

The right-hander was encouraged even if he didn’t have his best stuff.

“Arm strength, I’m still not where I want to be, but it’s definitely better than what I was early in the season and I’m happy where I’m at right now,” Betances told the New York Times. “I’ve got two weeks to get it right.”

Except he didn’t have two weeks. After his final strikeout in Toronto, Betances did a little hop off the mound. Somehow, in that forgettable skip, the right-hander partially tore his Achilles. That immediately ended his season and had him in a boot and crutches for the postseason.

What’s Next

Betances is now a free agent at just about the worst time possible in his career. He was one of, if not the, best relievers in baseball from 2014-18 and was a constant in the Yankees’ bullpen, even with the occasional bout with control problems.

Instead of a 3-4 year contract, Betances now likely has to settle for a one-year deal with an option. His lack of negotiating power could lead to the Yankees retaining him on the cheap, and the 31-year-old might want to return to the only place he knows to rebuild value.

Before the season, I’d have guessed Betances wouldn’t be back in the Bronx for 2020. Now, I’m not so sure, but I’d still lead against it. The Yankees may choose to reallocate the $7.13 million he made last season to other players, even if he’d be a cheaper option if Aroldis Chapman opts out.

Any reluctance on the Yankees’ part to participate in his free-agent process could indicate to other teams his Achilles injury is worse than previously indicated, while their willingness to bid would be encouraging. I wish a speedy recovery and, editorializing for a moment, a fat paycheck for Betances.

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4 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    If Betances is going to be spending at least part of the year rehabbing, is this really the medical team he wants to get him through that rehab process? If I were him I would be running (or hopping) out the door to a team with a competent training staff that doesn’t have a history of messed up rehab processes.

    I’d like to have him back on a short deal where he can rebuild his value, but from his point of view he’d be nuts to put his trust in the current training staff.

  2. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    I’d bring him back on a pillow contract and let Chapman walk, Steven. CC will be gone so we need a new leader and that’ll be Dellin. Chapman gave up that HR to Altuve and just costs to much not to mention how sweaty he is. I think Dellin’s injury problems were more an issue with the medical and training staffs than him. They misdiagnosed him and gave him bad medical advice. How do you tear your Achilles hopping on the mound? He’s far more reliable than Ottavino so he must be re-signed.

  3. RetroRob

    When I saw the story–Dellin Betances: 2019 Year in Review–I was expecting a two sentence post. : -)

    The fate of Betances as a Yankee may very well be tied to what Chapman does. I’m beginning to think Chapman will opt out, and the Yankees will be fine if he does. That will increase the likelihood they’ll invest money to bring back Dellin.

    If that happens, I also plan to pick Johnny Lasagna late in my fantasy draft as a potential cheap source for saves. Loaisiga is still rough, but the stuff is electric. In a one-inning role he could emerge as the closer as the season progresses. I wouldn’t bet on it, but he’d be worth a $1 pick.

    • Steven Tydings

      I think Britton probably slots into the closer role, but Mr. Lasagna should be key part of their bullpen plan next year. He could be a key part as a multi-inning option with elite stuff if he can *just* harness it a little.

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