What, you thought that winning the AL Pennant made time stand still?
On Saturday, the Royals declined the $12.5 million option they held on Billy Butler.
This move can be filed under “I” for “inevitable.” Butler hit .271/.323/.379 in 640 plate appearances in 2014. Each one of those numbers in his slash line was a career low which translated to a -0.3 fWAR. As I’ve written, his batted ball profile, once a model of consistency, tilted heavily toward the ground ball side of the ledger starting in 2013. His ground ball rate normalized a bit in the second half of 2014, but his power remained depressed. Although with a 6.9 FB/HR rate, we could expect him to at least club double-digit home runs next summer.
Both the Royals and Butler expressed a desire to return to Kansas City. I believe Butler. I don’t believe the Royals.
Dayton Moore has attempted to deal Butler myriad times since 2008 and from what I understand, had a trade cobbled together to send the DH to an AL East team as recently as last winter. Let’s just say Butler doesn’t fit the “profile” of your pennant winning Royals. While I believe Butler’s defensive shortcomings have been exaggerated, the Royals are committed to Eric Hosmer at first, which keeps Butler as the DH. Although the argument can be made, he’s a nice insurance policy at first in case Hosmer gets injured.
At any rate, it’s impossible to fault the Royals for walking away at this moment. The cost of $12.5 million is elite designated hitter money and Butler clearly isn’t elite. According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth more than that amount only once in his career – 2012 when he hit .313/.373/.510.
Butler can return to Kansas City, but I’m hearing numbers around two years and $12 million. He made $8 million last year, but I don’t know that he will take that kind of pay cut. At first, I speculated he could get two or three years at an AAV of around $10 million. On reflection, that seems high. Maybe two years and $16 million gets it done. Seattle is looking for a right-handed bat and have been linked to Butler numerous times. Including the infamous potential Butler-Yuniesky Betancourt swap.
On Monday, the Royals made James Shields a qualifying offer.
This is where things seem to get confusing. It’s really simple. Shields is a free agent. The Royals have submitted a qualifying offer, meaning they basically tendered Shields a contract of one year at $15.3 million. Shields figures to get more for multiple years on the open market, so he will turn down the offer, which he has to do by next Monday.
When he turns down the offer, the Royals will be in line to receive a compensatory draft pick in next June’s amateur draft. They do not get the pick from the team that signs Shields. They simply get a “bonus” choice in between the first and second rounds.
Early rumblings have Shields at $18-20 million AAV. That’s a huge payday for a number two starter with a ton of miles on his arm. Plus, the fact he will be 33 at the start of next season.
But Shields has been a very good value the last four seasons. He’s averaged 4.2 fWAR, which has been around $20 million per year in value. As always, the free agent gamble is paying on past performances which is a risky bit of business.
There’s no way the Royals re-sign Shields.
Then, the Royals picked up the 2015 option on Wade Davis.
Again, no surprises here. The Wade Davis Experience was unreal in 2014, earning 3.1 fWAR out of the bullpen. Read that last line again. The only other reliever in his league was Dellin Betances of the Yankees.
Now, the question is: With Greg Holland looking at around an $8 million payday as a second-year arbitration eligible pitcher, does it make fiscal sense for the Royals to spend $15 million of the back end of the bullpen. Oh, throw in a healthy raise for Kelvin Herrera as well and the Royals could be committing close to $20 million for three relief pitchers.
It’s not so crazy given the Royals brain trust believes the bullpen was a massive reason for their success in 2014. Both in the regular season and in October. The scary thing is bullpens are temperamental creatures. Last summer’s success story is this summer’s burnout. But Davis and Holland have been fairly consistent in the quality they’ve delivered out of the bullpen. It’s a gamble, but a good one. (Bookmark this post. Just in case.)
It also makes sense if David Glass approves a payroll increase. If you bought a $50 hat or a $100 hoodie at The K this October, you know what I mean. Although picking up options today, does not preclude a trade tomorrow, I’ll bet the Royals do everything they can to keep their core three relievers intact. Besides, we know Ned Yost doesn’t like to think after the sixth inning. The less we have to worry about his brain, the better.
Also on Monday, the Royals selected the contract of Paulo Orlando and added him to the 40-man roster.
This registers as a mild surprise, but it’s kind of humorous. It’s as if the Royals feel they’ve shown their cards and now are protecting the “profile” players. Speedy athletes who play plus defense are the new market inefficiency.
Orlando, acquired back in 2008 from the White Sox for Horacio Ramirez, hit .301/.355/.415 in Triple-A. He also stole 34 bases. Remember: Athleticism, speed and defense. This is the Royals Way. The Royals will take a look at him this spring. It may be a long shot, but with right field currently unsettled, stranger things have happened.