After a horribly lost 2019 season, Dellin Betances deserves to return to the New York Yankees on the right free-agent deal.
Alright, so it’s not entirely true. Yes, Betances was indeed on the Yankees’ roster this past season, but barely so. The big righty reliever did not debut until Sept. 15, striking out a pair of Toronto Blue Jays after a long road back from shoulder trouble.
In the cruelest twist of fate, Betances partially tore his Achilles tendon and was deemed out for the year.
This occurred at the worst possible time for Betances, who became a free agent following the World Series. Now, the Yankees must decide whether to bring back the four-time All-Star as part of their deadly bullpen.
It’s not as easy a question as one may think. Even Nostradamus would struggle with this one. Betances is the only reliever with five consecutive 100-strikeout seasons, pairing a blazing fastball with a knee-buckling curve.
However, Betances has also struggled to evolve from elite setup man to potential closer. It may not seem like much, but this could affect his free agency value more than expected. This puts the Yankees in a bind. Do they bring him back after winning 103 games without him, or move on?
The short answer is yes, but why is a bit more involved.
A dominant setup man
Assuming Dellin Betances does come back in 2020, it will be in his usual setup role. To be perfectly honest, it probably isn’t what he had in mind. How quickly forget Betances’ testy 2017 arbitration hearing in which Yankees team president Randy Levine referred to him as “not a closer.”
RL: "It's like me saying, I'm not the president of the Yankees, I'm an astronaut. I'm not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer."
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
In return, Betances implied leaving the Yankees in free agency, saying Levine’s comments would make the process “a little easier.”
But Betances doesn’t have many choices now. Aroldis Chapman signed a one-year extension in lieu of opting out and has the closer’s gig locked down. New York’s bullpen, though dominant, looked rickety with fatigue late in the year. Adam Ottavino could barely get guys out in the ALCS and manager Aaron Boone often had to get creative.
Also, let’s not forget analytics have royally swung free agency in the owners’ collective favor. Even if teams are lining up left and right to woo Dellin Betances, it’s hard to see him getting more than a two-year deal. Thus is the cruel nature of injuries.
The good news is the Yankees have a literal home-field advantage and must use it well to bring back Betances’ powerful arm.
Pay the man
The truth is Dellin Betances is living the literal dream. He grew up a Yankees fan in New York City and went to high school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn before the Yankees drafted him in 2006. He is a true blue New Yorker and, free agency remarks aside, is a strong fit for the future.
Now, consider Betances’ knack for striking out hitters. Prior to 2014, his first season with 100-plus strikeouts, only one Yankees reliever had accomplished the same feat in the last decade, David Robertson in 2011. Prior to Robertson (excluding Joba Chamberlain floating between the rotation and relief corps in 2008), it was Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera in 1996.
Dellin Betances, meanwhile, strikes out hitters easier than Bob Belcher flips burgers. He ranked third in K/9 in 2018 and second in 2017. In 2016, he led the way. Were it not for his 3.69 career ERA in the ninth inning, he would have been a closer long ago.
Now, consider the Yankees’ relief corps posted a 4.08 ERA as a unit in 2019. This was enough to rank ninth in MLB, and the number itself is probably inflated if the rumors of juiced balls are true.
The point is if home runs and power are on the rise again in 2020, the Yankees will need a strikeout artist. Ottavino’s slider can result in contact and walks as much as it can whiffs. Zack Britton is a ground ball specialist who, while valuable, gets dicey when a situation doesn’t really allow for contact.
Enter Dellin Betances. He can be frustrating and isn’t a lock to be lights-out, but the Yankees need him back. The bullpen, though talented, was missing a piece all year long. Against a dangerous Houston Astros offense in the ALCS, he easily could have been the difference.
That is, if his 2.63 ERA versus Houston followed him to the playoffs.
Mind you, dear and devoted readers, this isn’t to say the Yankees should break the bank to re-sign Betances. New York has other needs to fill and, no disrespect to Betances, they carry higher priority at this point.
But between what’s likely to be another long, slow offseason and an injury-plagued 2019, Dellin Betances might not have many options. He can certainly test the market, but the lucrative multi-year deal he desires may not materialize.
Thus, a two-year, $20 million contract with incentives sprinkled throughout is fair. GM Brian Cashman can surely make it happen. Betances is great at what he does, plain and simple. Maybe the Yankees could have gone to the World Series with an extra starting pitcher, or perhaps it was just Betances’ dominance missing.
Either way, he should be in pinstripes in 2020 under any and all circumstances.
Cashman, your move.