Yankees knew when to let go of these beloved but underachieving former players


If you associate anything with Yankees’ President Randy Levine, it’s the time he took a hostile tone (privately and publicly) in arbitration negotiations with Dellin Betances, who, at the time, was the New York-born heir to Mariano Rivera. He’d won a long fight to make it out of the minor leagues and became a four-time All Star. Who was Randy Levine to be so cold with him?

Five years later, Levine may be having the last laugh. After injuries robbed Betances of his farewell season in 2019, the Yankees let Betances sign a free-agent contract with the Mets. And in the subsequent years, Betances’ injuries have kept him sidelined, save for a rough 11 innings in 2021.

I make this point not because I’m some twisted apologist for Yankees’ upper management — far from it. Betances was one of the many Yankees I felt invested in during the late 2010s.

On top of that, Levine’s personal reasoning for belittling Betances wasn’t the most intellectually sound. He emphasized that Betances had been a setup man and not a closer. But that had little to do with Betances’ talent. Teams with strong bullpens may very well have multiple closer-level talents on their rosters (Betances once shared a bullpen with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller).

Nonetheless, Betances’ recent struggles remind us something about our favorite team: something that’s, all at once, melancholy and encouraging. The Yankees (by which I mean the actual scouts and analysts, not Levine) seem to be quite good at knowing when it’s time to cut the cord on former talents.

Betances isn’t the only former Yankee to struggle after leaving the Bronx. The 2019-20 offseason saw another heartbreaking free agency decision as the Yankees opted not to pursue their charismatic shortstop, Didi Gregorius. While Gregorius excelled for the Phillies in the shortened 2020 campaign, he has been a replacement-level player ever since.

The 2021-22 offseason saw the Yankees move on from several other memorable players. They released Jackson (Clint) Frazier, and traded away Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez.

While the Frazier decision was hardly a surprise, the other moves required careful calculation. Urshela and Voit were relatively affordable players who had shown high upsides (Voit’s star having fallen solely because of an all-around problematic 2021 season). Sánchez was a streaky player who had been on pace to have a solid 2021 until a stint on the COVID-19 list arguably threw his rhythm off.

Yet, in all three cases, it appears the Yankees made the right decision. Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson and Jose Trevino have, to varying degrees, outperformed the players they replaced.

Throw in the recent decisions to move on from Adam Ottavino (who has been fine, but nothing special, since leaving the Bronx) and Luis Cessa, and it becomes abundantly clear that Yankees’ management is fairly competent at assessing when a player’s run is over or nearing the end.

So, what’s the point of saying all this? Well, part of the experience of being a Yankees’ (or any team’s) fan is constantly questioning the team’s judgement. Whether it’s Javier Vazquez or Jacoby Ellsbury, we can all think of examples where the wrong superstar was brought to New York and their talents did not pan out.

The Yankees certainly do not have a perfect track record when it comes to bringing in talent, but that’s to be expected. All-Stars are rarer than benchwarmers. You’re not going to strike gold with every personnel move you make.

But, at the very least, the Yankees’ record on deciding which players to cut loose shows that no gold is being thrown away by accident.

As a fan and writer, I recognize that part of the fun in engaging with baseball is questioning your team’s every decision. But there’s part of me that realizes there’s a reason the New York Yankees are the New York Yankees. As baseball’s greatest institution, the Yankees no doubt strive to employ the most competent decision makers available. And, at least when it comes to assessing the talents of their long-time players, it seems like the Yankees know what they’re doing.