After beating Dellin Betances in arbitration the Yankees added to the drama by going public with criticism of the star reliever.
The arbitration process sucks. It sucks for the team. It sucks for the player. The player, his agent, and key front office personnel go into a room where their lawyers and contractors argue why the player is worse or better than he initially appears. At the end of the day, three professional arbitrators who don’t necessarily have intimate knowledge of MLB player value decide between the player’s submitted salary number and the team's submitted salary number.
These decisions are almost always fitted on a player’s service time, past salary, and the closest comps based on antiquated box score-level stats like wins, saves, batting average, home runs, and RBI, as those stats are generally what the arbitrators understand. The process has been around long enough that there are almost always comparables. Because of this, groups like the Pace Law baseball arbitration team are able to project arbitration awards with stunning accuracy without even being in the room, and an annual national law school arbitration competition occurs with MLB’s system as the model. Often, this is all about a couple hundred-thousand dollars, a pittance in the overall budget of MLB teams.
The Yankees reached arbitration settlements with six of the players they tendered. The seventh was Dellin Betances, one of the best relievers in baseball, entering arbitration for the first time. The Yankees offered $3 million and Betances countered at $5 million. The Yankees are a "file-and-trial" team, which means once the arbitration numbers are officially exchanged they will no longer negotiate a one-year deal.
Economist Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors went a step beyond looking at cases individually and fitted a statistical model to project arbitration salaries across the league, since the comparables are so stable. Swartz’s model for relievers is pretty clear: saves get paid and holds don’t. Swartz also found that the arbitration panel hews so closely to past precedents that a player is unlikely to get more than $1 million beyond the previously highest-paid player for his role and service time, no matter how much better he was than that past comparable. Swartz’s model is generally well-regarded and projected Betances’ median arbitration award at $3.4 million for 2017, far closer to the team filing than the player filing. It’s no surprise that the Yankees won the case, no matter how unfairly light that $3 million number may seem at first glance.
I suspect nothing further would’ve happened here except perhaps a generic disappointment quote from Betances, but then Yankees president Randy Levine went to the media. You certainly wouldn’t be reading about it here on BP—across town, Wilmer Flores’ arbitration victory over the Mets floated through the papers as a couple of sentences in a pre-spring training slice of life story, garnering no major regional or national attention.
Why Levine chose to go after Betances in the media after winning is a question only Levine himself can answer. Arbitration proceedings are often rancorous. It often puts the team in a position where it has to trash its own player for financial advantage, pointing out things like how slow he is to the plate. Occasionally these things boil over; Jerry Blevins’ arbitration win over the Nationals in 2015 was reportedly a factor in his trade a few weeks later to the Mets. This proceeding was apparently particularly bad, but again, the Yankees won.
Can the Yankees shortstop repeat last year's unexpected power surge?
We’ve long recognized Didi Gregorius as a deft hand in the field. The question was always how much he would end up hitting. It’s a question that wasn’t asked too often, given the low baseline for meaningful contribution, set cleat-high due to how good he was at one of the most difficult positions.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Hal Steinbrenner asked a question without really wanting to know the answer.
I made a mistake: I thought about this from the player’s perspective. I thought about the player. Or perhaps, I thought about it as mostly mattering with respect to individual players, as mostly serving to modify their behavior. On Thursday, Hal Steinbrenner reminded me of my error.
In clearing the catcher job for Gary Sanchez the Yankees got good value in return for Brian McCann.
The New York Yankees. They’re 27-time champions, they’re home to some of the greatest names in baseball history, and they’ve been out of the heat of contention for an uncharacteristically long time now.
The Yankees have been lining up pieces for what they hope is a new era of Bronx dominance since they sold off the big parts of their bullpen, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, in July, leading baseball folks to wonder “what are they up to?” Well, now general manager Brian Cashman is making it clear.
How a lesser known Yankees prospect is helping himself stand out.
James Reeves stepped on the field in Tampa to accept an honor from his current team, the Tampa Yankees. Reeves was named Pitcher of the Month, just a week after holding down the Florida State League honor for Pitcher of the Week.
The day the lefty received the monthly award, he was preparing to take the mound for his 12th start of the 2016. He was upbeat and humorous in the early part of the day, but, later, as the game got closer, he was quieter, an unwavering focus showed on his face as he walked toward his locker. That mix of concentration and lightheartedness has served him well. In June, the Yankees switched the script and decided to make Reeves a full-time starter.