The 2017 season is not going exactly as planned for the New York Yankees and right now that is actually a good thing. They are currently in first place in the American League East with a 24-13 record and they are proving a lot of people wrong by playing well above expectations.
Another thing not going as originally planned for the Yankees: their bullpen. For one thing, the lesser known players are doing well. The second thing is that Aroldis Chapman, who signed a five-year, $86 million contract to rejoin the Yankees this winter, is currently on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain, which means that Dellin Betances will, once again, slide into the closer role for the foreseeable future.
What makes this even more intriguing is what transpired this winter. Betances and the Yankees went to arbitration, the Yankees won, and team president Randy Levine decided to make his thoughts about the righty reliever public. For some reason, Levine found it unfathomable that Betances was trying to get $5 million a year, which he believed was “elite closer” money. He called a press conference in which he trashed Betances’ agents and said that Betances’ $5 million request might as well have been $50 million. And what was Levine’s reasoning? “He doesn’t have the stats.” Instead, the 29-year-old is making $2 million this season.
When he was called on to be the closer for the last two months of 2016, Betances experienced some bumps, including a rough September in which his ERA was a bloated 9.64. Batters hit .279/.392/.372 with 13 runs on 12 hits in only 9 1/3 innings. And maybe that’s what Levine saw, but if you looked at Betances’ 2016 numbers as a whole, he was a good reliever. He also only pitched 73 innings in 2016. He threw a career-high 90 in 2014 and 84 in 2015.
Betances, who was left with no choice, thanks to Levine’s antics, let the Yankees, Levine and the public know that he didn’t really like how everything went down, saying, “You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes.”
So far this season, Betances is pitching like a high-end, elite reliever. Of course, small sample sizes abound, but in 12.1 innings (15 games), Betances has given up seven hits, walked nine and struck out 22. He’s holding opposing batters to a .163/.308/.163 line and has an 0.73 ERA.
Oh, but guess what? Levine backtracked on those comments he made over the winter when it was revealed that Chapman was injured and that Betances would be closing. Levine told reporters earlier this week, “He (Betances) is going to do great.” He added, “He is ready. I have full confidence he will do a great job.”
Betances responded to Levine’s change of heart, “I am not worried about Randy Levine and what he is trying to say.” He also acknowledged what happened over the winter, saying, “Obviously there was the thing a couple of months ago, but I am focused on the team and trying to help the team win.”
As of now, Chapman is expected to be out for at least a month and while his shoulder showed no structural damage in the MRI, it wouldn’t be the first time that a pitcher is out longer than anticipated. So the Yankees have to hope that Betances can fill in effectively until Chapman is healthy again.