That means that, although he hasn't reached free agent status and go wherever he wants, he does have the right to negotiate his pay with his team (rather than being paid whatever the team says for the first three years, so long as it is at or above the major league minimum). If the two sides cannot agree on a number, they go to arbitration where an independent arbiter decides between the two proposed salaries (one from the team, one from the player).
The New York Yankees hadn't gone to arbitration with a player since 2008 when they defeated Chien-Ming Wang. That streak ended this year when they went to arbitration with Dellin Betances. Betances had asked for an annual salary of $5 million; the Yankees countered with $3 million.
The Yankees won.
Arbitration can be a tough process on the psyche of a player because of its legal practice. As much as the player has to argue why he deserves the money, the team has to argue why the player doesn't. So after you, the player, boast about your qualifications, the team then tears you apart and say you're worthless to them.
Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's the truth. Just like in the real world, all parties in a court case are entitled to competent representation, and the legal counsel will argue whatever it takes to win the case, regardless of how ethical it may be. Even a person being tried for murder will hire an attorney to argue whatever it takes to discredit the witnesses and the prosecution's case in order to get the defendant acquitted, even if he actually did it.
So in the case of Betances v. Yankees, the Yankees went on the offensive during the hearing to explain why the reliever did not deserve the money. They were entitled to do so during such hearing, and it appeared that Betances understood this and was prepared to hear some unfortunate things.
The problem is that Yankees President Randy Levine then held court after the victory and relayed all his statements to the press and the public. Levine basically blasted Betances, claiming he was not elite and his stats proved it. He also blasted Betances' agents as using the arbitration system and process to exploit players and the precedents of salaries in order to get more money for players who don't deserve it.
Betances responded in kind to the press, stating that free agency looked more appealing following this experience. Sounds like bridges are getting burnt already.
First of all, regarding the salary in general, there was no way Betances was going to win this case. In fact, it surprised me that he would even go this far and not settle. Betances showed last season that there are still plenty of holes in his game, regardless of the fact that he made three consecutive All-Star teams. He can't hold runners on base. He can't close out games. He simply did not have the intestinal fortitude to pitch the ninth inning, so putting him in the setup role is the perfect place for him, and he'll still make plenty of money in that role.
From there, however, as unfortunate as the arbitration process is, it's even more unfortunate and dumb that Randy Levine would answer questions about what he said. He's not a lawyer looking to explain his case to the public so society understand what happened to the citizen on trial. He's dealing with an internal issue regarding salary; not a single person's life is on the line here. He should have kept his mouth shut.
And much like the situation where Philly people responded to Gov. Chris Christie's comments, Betances didn't need to come out and say what he did publicly, even if he was very hurt. Why do public figures feel the need to explain themselves in this manner through the press?
I bet Betances is pitching for the Mets as soon as he is a free agent.