The New York Yankees have been stunningly mediocre over the last few seasons. Despite that mediocrity, they’ve managed to still field teams with one or two interesting players, and Dellin Betances may be the best example. He has emerged as one of baseball’s elite relievers, and been one of Joe Girardi’s most consistent options from the bullpen.
Given Betances’ immense talent, the ensuing arbitration battle with the Yankees and Team President Randy Levine’s comments have become a PR nightmare for New York. As indefensible as Levine’s comments have been, they’re only the latest in a long saga of insensitivity from the team’s leadership. While the Yankees continue to retool and rebuild, this incompetence at the team’s highest levels could become a major obstacle to future success.
As MLB’s Bryan Hoch reported, Levine and Betances exchanged fiery public comments after the arbitration hearing ended. Levine essentially claimed that Betances didn’t deserve more than the $3 million he received in the hearing, claiming that it was ridiculous for the elite reliever to ask for more. Betances had several responses, but, perhaps most notably suggested that the team’s stance had made his free-agency options easier:
"You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes." - Dellin Betances— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
Perhaps most appallingly for those that follow the Yankees, this isn’t an isolated incident of insensitivity from leadership. Not long ago, owner Hal Steinbrenner suggested that any domestic violence allegations around Aroldis Chapman don’t matter because (to paraphrase) the fans would eventually forget. Regardless of how one feels about Chapman’s guilt, simply brushing the issue aside is a terrible look for the franchise.
There are plenty of older examples, as well. The Yankees famously went through a series of messy public negotiations with Derek Jeter in 2010. And Alex Rodriguez may be happily working with the team right now, but it doesn’t take a historian to bring up examples of bitterness between the former star and the team’s front office. While contract negotiations and steroid disputes may be understandable, the team has a disturbing history of making conflict with players, then making those conflicts much more public than they ever needed to be.
These examples can’t just be set aside, either, because they have a direct impact on what New York is trying to accomplish. Look at the team the Yankees are fielding now: with young, exciting players like Betances, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez, this team is actually borderline likable. But that won’t last long if the leadership keeps putting its collective foot in its collective mouth, and making itself look like the enemy of those likable players.
If the Yankees lose Betances to his eventual free agency, Levine will clearly bear much of the blame. However, his actions and attitude could cost the team other free agents in the future too, players they desperately need to contend for more World Series wins. New York’s rebuild, given the state of their farm system, hinges on dipping into free-agency waters in the near future, and this team won’t reach its full potential without doing so. It’s easy to imagine a future where the Yankees’ considerable prestige and wealth are at least somewhat mitigated by the unpleasantness and incompetence of the leadership.
The New York Knicks have understandably been at the center of controversy recently, and to an extent have attracted a great deal of bad press away from the Yankees. That can’t continue forever, though. If New York continues to publicly mistreat and slander its players, the rebuild plan will take a significant hit.