New York Yankees

Heyman: Yankees president Levine admonishes Betances’ agents

April 9, 2016: New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances (68) during the game on Saturday afternoon, Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)

Yankees president Randy Levine called a press conference to criticize Dellin Betances’ representatives for “using” the star set-up man to try to “change a marketplace.”

Fresh off the team’s victory in arbitration — arbitrators ruled in favor of the Yankees’ $3 million figure rather than Betances’ $5 million figure — Levine called the agents’ strategy “half baked,” pointing out the $3 million figure was still the highest ever for a set-up man in his first year of arbitration while taking shots at the $5 million attempt.

Levine pointed out that the Yankees love and respect Betances as a person and player, but that the figure would have changed “30-to-40 years” of precedent of paying set-up men differently than closers.

In perhaps his best line, Levine said the case for Betances to be paid like an elite closer would be like him saying “I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut.”

It’s true that closers are valued differently than set-up men in the arbitration process. Aroldis Chapman was paid $5 million after three years as an elite closer while setup men have received significantly less, even elite ones.

Levine also called Betances’ number “over the top” and “not based on reality.” But he made clear he felt Betances was a “victim” of his own agents’ exuberance. And when asked whether he might need to talk further to Betances, Levine said Betances should talk to his agent about what happened.

Levine also pointed out how that the Yankees “value [their] players” and don’t often use the arbitration process, but that he was more confident of winning this case than any other before — though he understands that you never know how arbitrators will ultimately rule.

Levine said he didn’t expect this disagreement to affect Betances’ performance, and in response to whether the hearing could be a detriment, Levine said players know what the process is about and he’s been through cases that were more contentious.

Betances has been excellent the last three years as a set-up man, posting a cumulative 1.93 ERA while striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings. However, he struggled when handed the closer role in the second half of 2016 following trades of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman; Betances posted a second-half ERA of 3.72 (after a first-half mark of 2.66). He did finish the season with a career-high 12 saves, but also blew five in the process.

The Yankees, at least in part based on those struggles as closer, paid Aroldis Chapman a record $86 million in free agency to reclaim the closer’s role.

Betances’ agent Casey Close did not respond to a text message. One of his assistants, Jim Murray, complained to Joel Sherman of the New York Post and MLB Network that Levine mispronounced Dellin’s name as “Dylan” in the hearing. He also told Sherman the Yankees “hid behind the process” and called the entire ordeal “unfortunate.”

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