Happy Friday, everyone. It’s been a while since our last mailbag, but now that Spring Training is approaching, we’re bringing it back. We have a few good questions to address today. But before that: if you’d like to be considered for a future edition, please email viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com with your questions. We plan to choose our favorites each week. Now to the mailbag.
Dan asks: What is the Yankees equivalent of the [Andrew Benintendi] trade that just happened? I have to think KC would still be interested in moving him considering they’re rebuilding.
I disagree that the Royals would be interested in flipping Benintendi, but let’s go with it. Kansas City sent two players to be named later, Franchy Cordero, and prospect Khalil Lee in the three-team deal that netted them Benintendi. Let’s break Cordero and Lee down and then look for matches in the Yankees’ organization.
Cordero, 26, has tons of raw power but has yet to really tap into it. Even though his exit velocity has reached 117 MPH, he has just 12 homers and owns a .197 isolated power in his big league career (315 PA). That’s not awful power output, I guess. But tack on a very high strikeout rate (34.9 percent) and poor defense: the flaws are clear. PECOTA has him as a +1 WARP player with an 89 DRC+ in 507 plate appearance this year, which isn’t good. Last, He’s under team control for the next three seasons and has two minor league options left.
Well, we can’t have everything, I guess. SNY’s Andy Martino reports that Dellin Betances and the New York Mets have agreed to a deal:
ESPN’s Jeff Passan corroborated the report, saying that it is a one-year deal with two player options. Here are the financial details, per Passan:
I’ll come out and just say it: this just sucks. There may be baseball reasons to move on from Betances — the injury, payroll concerns, etc. — but the dude has been one of my favorite players for a long time. It’s weird to think that the Yanks dugout will no longer include CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, and Didi Gregorius in 2020. It’s just a weird thing. Baseball, man. I’m glad the Yankees signed Cole, about as glad as I can be short of a World Series, I cannot believe both Dellin and Didi signed one year deals with teams not named the Yankees. I get it from a baseball perspective, but it still sucks from an emotional standpoint. It just does.
Anyway, Betances had a sterling career with the Bombers, who drafted him in the 8th Round of the 2006 draft. Originally a starter, Betances became one of baseball’s very best relievers, pitching to a 2.36 ERA (2.31 FIP, 57 ERA-) in eight separate seasons for New York. From 2014-2018, though he really shined. I mean, check out Betances’ stats from 2014-18 in key areas, with league rankings among 273 qualified relievers in parentheses:
ERA: 2.22 (8th)
FIP: 2.26 (4th)
Strikeouts per 9: 14.63 (3rd)
Strikeout percentage: 40.3% (4th)
Home Runs per 9: 0.60 (29th)
Innings Pitched: 373.1 (1st)
Average Leverage Index When Entering Game: 1.44 (44th)
fWAR: 11.3 (2nd)
The guy was an absolute, absolute stud. One of the sturdiest and nastiest relievers in all of baseball when he was on, walk problems be damned. Plus, he seemed like a great dude who was well-liked by his teammates. I will miss rooting for him.
I hope for his sake that he returns in Spring Training as healthy and effective as ever and is able to cash in on a huge payday after declining his player option after the season. His injuries really stopped him from collecting the contract he deserved. As I’ve said before, Betances, who was one of the best players in baseball for several seasons, is a shining example of the problems with baseball’s economic structure — he over-performed his value to the Yankees for half a decade and may never reap the rewards.
Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve today so I’m not going into much more detail now. We’ll have more thoughts on this in the days to come, obviously.
Dellin Betances hasn’t signed on the dotted line for any of the other 29 clubs just yet, but all indications are that he won’t return to the Bronx next season. For shame. I don’t know anyone who wants to see Betances go. Assuredly everyone wants Dellin to come back strong in 2020, so why can’t that be with the Yankees? A number of things may have led to the point of no return.
A testy relationship
It takes two to tango, and maybe the Yankees are interested in a reunion but Betances isn’t. As you likely recall, he and the Yankees had an ugly arbitration hearing back in 2017. Further, the Yankees never told him about an asymptomatic bone spur in his shoulder that they discovered long ago.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be too pleased if my employer disparaged me and withheld information from me. That has to be a pretty difficult thing to overcome. That said, there’s more to Betances’ relationship with the Yankees than merely his rapport with the front office. In particular, Randy Levine directly drew Dellin’s ire. Not his teammates, not any of his coaches, nor any fans. He’s extremely popular in the clubhouse and that likely means something to Dellin.
Plus, the towering righty is a born-and-raised New Yorker. He was born in Washington Heights, grew up a Yankees fan, went to school in the city, and was drafted by the Yankees right out of high school. Could he reunite with Joe Girardi in Philly? Sure, it’s not that far away from home. There’s always the crosstown Mets, too. But I’d personally like to think he wants to remain a Yankee. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Payroll and Luxury Tax Implications
Bobby put together a post about the Yankees’ payroll situation last week. The gist: the Yankees are just over $260 million in actual dollars next year, though that’s not quite as high for luxury tax purposes. At the moment, the Bombers are on the brink of the third and highest tier of the competitive balance tax threshold, something ownership clearly would prefer to avoid.
So, without moves to shed salary (i.e. JA Happ), the Yankees may not be able to stomach re-signing Betances. We’ve already seen how it essentially precluded them from retaining Didi Gregorius.
Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing projected a two year, $18 million deal for Betances. At face value, that’s $9 million per year. However, it’s really closer to a $13 million impact factoring in the luxury tax. It would also push back the Yankees’ top pick in next year’s amateur draft ten places. That’s something the Yankees are able to afford, but perhaps it’s not a line they’re willing to cross.
The good news is that Betances didn’t need surgery to repair his achilles after the season. Since it was a partial tear, his recovery should be quicker and allow him to be ready for spring training. Still, the Yankees may be wary about his effectiveness — and not just because of his achilles. Betances opened the season on the injured list with a lat strain, but experienced setbacks throughout his recovery. Namely, a lat strain in early June that stopped his return in its tracks.
When Betances finally returned for one game in September, his velocity wasn’t there. He maxed out at 94.9 miles per hour, a far cry from his heater typically around 98 MPH in the past. Is that enough to scare the Yankees away? He admitted his arm strength still wasn’t all the way back and is a notoriously slow starter in terms of velocity.
Whether or not a velocity concern is legitimate; Betances’ age (32 in March), workload, offseason rehabilitation, and shoulder woes that plagued 2019 may just be too much risk for the Yankees to continue the relationship.
Ultimately, whatever the Yankees’ justifications may be, letting Betances go would stink. I’m still holding out hope for a reunion, but I can’t say I feel very good about it. The Yankees have already lost enough fan favorites this winter in CC Sabathia and Didi Gregorius, and I’d really rather not have to see another one go.
Back in August, I wrote about Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and their future (or lack thereof?) in pinstripes:
“The immediate future portends great success for the Yankees. They’ve got a big division lead and they look unbeatable at times. The longer term future, though, is, as always, uncertain. It may not contain Didi and/or Dellin but I hope it does. Hopefully, I’m not alone in that.”
While it’s still relatively early in the offseason, that future is closer now than it was back on August 8th and we’re no clearer with regards to Didi and Dellin. We’ve heard very little or nothing about the Yankees’ interest in them. Also unchanged is my opinion: the Yankees should bring back both players.
The playoffs showed the need for Dellin Betances. While the Yankees’ bullpen (mostly) performed admirably in their playoff run after a spectacular regular season, it was clear that the pitchers were gassed by the end. Innings from Betances could’ve relieved them–pun very much intended–both in the regular season and the playoffs.
Didi’s season and playoffs are an incomplete picture, even if he had a relatively large number of games played and plate appearances. While it’s less so for position players, Tommy John Surgery is still a catastrophic thing to come back from and to judge Didi on this season and let him walk might be foolish. Despite a return to his lack of patience, he did flash his typical power from June through August.
With both players coming off such big injuries–a truly devastating year in Dellin’s case–there are risks in signing them. These injuries could truly turn the tides of their careers and send them down paths they didn’t expect to walk on this quickly. Perhaps I’m being a pollyanna here, but I think their talent outweighs those risks. When healthy, they’re two of the very best at their positions. Talent is only one part of the equation, though.
Fit. Both players fit the Yankees well and the best version of the team in 2020 includes them. They also likely fit the best version of the 2021 Yankees and with a work stoppage looming in 2022, the Yankees need to do their best to win and win now. Could they survive, even thrive, without either or both of these players? Yes and yes. But why take the risk? The last few months have made it pretty clear that both Didi and Dellin still belong in the Bronx.
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.
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.