Back in the before times, we covered the Dellin Betances signing from a number of angles, all of which reinforced the idea that, though risky, this was a signing that could pay huge dividends for the Mets. In addition to his recent injury history, Betances’s contract structure, which features player options for 2021 and 2022, allowed the Mets to sign him for a relatively affordable price. With a 60-game season upon us, all of the question marks for the signing remain, and are all somewhat magnified.
Betances missed all but two-thirds of an inning in 2019, first due to a shoulder injury (which eventually turned into a lat injury), and then the end of the season with a partially torn achilles. These are not parts of the bodies that recover quickly or easily, but with more than a year since the shoulder injury, it seems like Betances should be healthy to start the season. But once he starts, what will his performance look like?
If Betances returns to his 2015-level of dominance, the safe bet was always that he would not take the player option in his contract and test the free agency waters again in the 2020-2021 offseason. But with the shortened season, there will be far less data pointing to whether Betances had truly righted his ship, or simply had a stretch of good luck. It may make more sense to take the player option for 2021, avoid the stress of finding a new gig, and try to prove that 2020 was not a fluke.
The same is true if he is good, but not great. While there will certainly be suitors out there for a good relief pitcher, it isn’t too hard to imagine teams being more conservative with their payouts due to the smaller sample size of data. There were also some incentives in Betances’s 2020 contract for 2021, in terms of bonuses for 40 ($800,000), 50 ($1 million), 60 ($1 million), and 70 ($1 million) appearances. Those types of incentives benefit a healthy player almost as much a good one, so if Betances had a healthy 162 game season, he may have opted to stay with the Mets for the $6 million base salary plus whatever incentives he reached. Now, that base salary looks like the 2021 best case scenario unless he opts out.
The Mets have a $3 million buyout for Betances’s 2021 season, which only he can trigger, so if he’s truly terrible, they can’t simply cut him and eat the salary, as crazy as that line of thinking is for the Wilpons. So it seems like, baring a magnificent year, Betances is likely a Met at least through the end of the 2021 season, perhaps even into 2022 if his vesting option is hit (50 games).
So what does this mean for the 2020 season? It means that there is far less pressure on Betances to be his old self. In some ways, that may be the best thing for his performance, by eliminating the ‘walk year’ theatrics. Betances can focus on being healthy and throwing the ball well, and not worrying about making enough appearances to trigger bonuses or trying to play for a big contract in 2021.
However, there is some evidence that players often excel when playing for a new contract, so maybe the Mets were hoping that the motivation of the big payday would lead to a stronger Betances down the stretch.
Bullpen usage is also going to be an odd thing in 2020, with vastly different schools of thought for exactly how it will look. It seems likely that bullpen usage may be up, due to lack of a traditional spring/early season stretching out for starters, as well as potentially more opt-outs and, sadly, an uptick of injuries due to the rushed nature of ‘summer camp.’
Betances, during his 2019 rehab starts and his one game of major league action, saw his fastball velocity dip considerably from his pre-injury average. This may be resolved now that he is further from injury, but his spring debut seeing his fastball only reach 90mph certainly didn’t help quell concerns about his reduced abilities.
All of this is to say that Betances’s season is incredibly hard to predict for myriad reasons, but mainly health, usage, and effectiveness. If his injuries are behind him, it seems likely that the signing is a good one, at least for this season, as he will give the Mets another potentially elite bullpen option. If Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia can rebound from rough 2019 seasons, and if Seth Lugo continues his excellence, Betances may give the Mets one of the best bullpens in baseball.