TAMPA, Fla. -- Attending an arbitration hearing was an unpleasant experience for Dellin Betances, who had hoped to put those 90 minutes in the past and return to a more familiar setting on Saturday. The first day back in uniform proved to be anything but routine for the All-Star reliever.
Shortly after a panel of arbitrators determined that Betances' 2017 salary would be $3 million and not the $5 million requested by the player, Yankees president Randy Levine held a conference call during which he said that the right-hander was "a victim" of agent Jim Murray's "attempt to change the marketplace in baseball."
The tone of that comment and others made by Levine did not sit well with Betances, who called a media gathering of his own to tell his side of the story.
"I was planning to put all this behind me," Betances said. "But for him to say I'm a victim and my agent's using me? I felt like I was asking for a fair deal. Taking the ball, most setup men pitch for one inning. I went out there for three innings or multiple or guys on base all the time. That's my job, but I continued to do it over and over, just trying to help the team. And for me to even go through this process, that's what upsets me the most."
Betances' case was heard on Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla. by arbitrators Steven Wolf, Dan Brent and Sylvia Skratek after the pitcher and team were unable to find common ground, breaking off contract talks in December.
Noting that Betances' $3 million salary is now the highest ever issued to a first-time arbitration-eligible setup man, Levine called it "a great victory for Dellin Betances" and said that Murray's team at Excel Sports had embarked on a "half-baked attempt" to delete the pay disparity between closers and elite setup relievers.
"In effect, it's like me saying, 'I'm not the president of the Yankees, I'm an astronaut,'" Levine said. "Well, I'm not an astronaut, and Dellin Betances is not a closer, at least based on statistics."
Murray responded to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, calling Levine's statements "reprehensible and outright false" while claiming that Levine mispronounced Betances' first name repeatedly during the hearing while blaming Betances for the Yankees' drop in attendance and their lack of recent playoff victories while attempting to "bully" the panel.
"The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy," Murray said. "He might as well be an astronaut, because nobody on Earth would agree with what he is saying."
Betances will turn 29 next month, and he was 3-6 with 12 saves in 17 opportunities, a 3.08 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 73 appearances last season, leading all relievers in strikeouts for the third consecutive year.
An All-Star in each of the last three seasons, Betances had his contract renewed at the league minimum of $507,500 last year. He said that the Yankees showed they valued him only as a setup man and suggested that he might become more "selfish" as a result, wondering aloud if it would be fair to say he would only enter games with no runners on.
"They take me in a room and they trash me for about an hour and a half," he said. "I thought that wasn't fair. I felt like I've done a lot for this organization, especially over the last three years. I've taken the ball, time after time. Whenever they needed me, I was there for them. I never said no."
A New York City product who grew up as a Yankees fan, Betances is not eligible for free agency until 2020, but acknowledged that Saturday's experience could affect his loyalty to the organization.
"You look at it differently now," Betances said. "I think it will be a little easier when the time comes."
Yankees veteran Carsten Sabathia spoke to Betances on Saturday and, once cooler heads prevail, does not believe Betances' performance will be affected by this crash course on the game's business side.
"He's still making a lot of money, you know? That's the one thing I keep telling him," Sabathia said. "I think he'll be able to bounce back, separate the business from the game and be able to come out and still do his job."
This marked the Yankees' first trip to arbitration since 2008, when they defeated right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who was awarded a raise from $489,500 to the team's $4 million offer instead of his $4.6 million request. Prior to that, New York had not gone to arbitration since 2000, when the club defeated Mariano Rivera.
Betances said that he would not speak about the topic past Saturday, preferring to spend his energy preparing for the World Baseball Classic, where he has committed to pitch for the Dominican Republic.
"Right now, I've got to get ready," Betances said. "I'm going to do my best to get ready. Believe me, when the season starts, I'm going to give my all to the team and to the fans. I promise that."