Last night, Billy Butler hit his 15th home run of the season (Yes, they still count September stats in your season totals) and now sports a rather impressive .319/.385/.475 batting line. That equates to an OPS+ of 134 and, folks, that ain’t bad at all.
As the season has ground on, there has been an undercurrent of ‘maybe we should trade Butler’ talk. I can understand where such a sentiment might come from, at times I even wonder if trading Butler might be best for the organization.
After all, Billy is not a very good first baseman and probably never will be. He doesn’t run very well, hit into a lot of double plays and has rather modest power for a first baseman/DH type. Plus the organization would seem to have a bevy of potential first baseman coming up through the high minors. Given that Kansas City is two years, if not more, away from seriously contending, it might make sense to move Butler for additional prospects.
Still, the reasons Royals’ fans get annoyed with Butler are not exactly secrets. Potential trade partners would certainly be happy to highlight Billy’s 30 grounded into double plays this season, his sub-par defensive skills and basic lack of speed. Would the return be worth losing Billy Butler?
Recently, I have come around to a different line of thinking. Now is the time to offer Billy Butler a contract extension and here’s why:
- Arbitration – Butler is eligible of arbitration this season and, for all his faults, Billy can rather confidently go in front of an arbitrator with two years of well above average hitting on his resume. I don’t know what the likely award might be, but a guy with back to back years of OPS+ of 125 and 134, who plays everyday is going to get paid.
- Timing – As good as Butler has hit, the Royals can make the case that while he may be one of the 15 best hitters in baseball under the age of 25, Billy is probably not in the top five. Sure, the organization could use that as ammunition in an arbitration hearing or they could use it to negotiate a favorable long-term deal. After all, the best hitter in Butler’s age group, Evan Longoria signed a six year/$17.5 million deal a couple of years back. Why not offer Billy twice what Longoria makes for the next four years or so?
- There is No Logjam – Until Kila Ka’aihue, Eric Hosmer or Clint Robinson actually starts raking against major league pitching, the Royals do not have a logjam at first base/designated hitter. Right now, they have ONE proven hitter there and his name is Billy Butler.
- He IS Getting Better – After hitting 51 doubles and 20 home runs in 2009, a lot of fans are of the opinion that Butler has regressed this season. Sure, he has just 41 doubles and 15 home runs, but Billy has raised his on-base percentage by over twenty points. He is walking a little more (61 currently vs. 58 last season) and striking out a lot less (67 times this season vs. 103 a year ago). All this, and Billy will not turn twenty-five until next April.
- How Much Would You Pay for the Next John Olerud – Now, before you answer that, click on the name for the link to Baseball Reference. Olerud played 17 season in the majors, and only once failed to post an OPS+ above 100. In fact, only twice (his last two seasons) did Olerud not top an OPS+ of 110. In 1993, Olerud hit .363/.473/.599 and just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he then hit .354/.447/.551 in 1998. For his career, Olerud hit .295/.398/.465 with 500 doubles and 225 home runs. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but John Olerud would have been one of the top two hitters on virtually an Royals’ team in recent history. Right now, one of Butler’s closest comparables is John Olerud and he probably has a chance to be better than Olerud over the long-term (perhaps minus those two huge seasons outlined above).
Early on in his career, the Royals seemed to have some concern over Billy’s motivation and professionalism, but those issues seem to have gone away. Over the past two seasons, we have witnessed a player who works and plays hard. One thing you can say about Billy is that, while he does not run fast, he does run hard – that’s worth something.
Above everything else, Billy Butler is a professional hitter on a team full of hacksters. Can you readily name me a pitch or location that routinely gets Butler out? I can’t, but I can pretty much name one for every other hitter in the lineup (including David DeJesus – the other professional hitter on the roster).
Now is the time, I think, for the Royals to enter into negotiations to lock up Butler to a fair, but reasonable long-term deal. Something along the lines of four years and $26 million might get the job done.
To me, that sounds like a heck of a deal.