It’s a done deal. We knew it was going to happen, but frankly, I’m kind of surprised it happened so fast. Once Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit, the DH dominoes started to fall, so maybe the news shouldn’t have come as such a rapid surprise.
Billy Butler has left Kansas City for Oakland.
Initial reports have the A’s paying Butler a total of $30 million over three years. If the Royals thought Butler was worth $10 million per year, I’m guessing they would have bit the bullet on the $12.5 million option and I wouldn’t be writing this post. The Royals would have brought him back, but they were looking at a maximum two year commitment at an AAV of between $6 and $8 million. That was where they valued him.
On a related note, I saw a tweet from Dave Cameron asking if Butler’s contract was going to be this high, why wouldn’t the Royals have worked out a trade and then picked up his option? Similar to the situation with Ervin Santana a couple years ago. My guess is the Royals were worried they couldn’t make a trade and it wasn’t worth the risk. I mean, the guy’s name has come up in rumors for years but nothing has happened. It isn’t like the Royals haven’t tried to get rid of the guy. There just hasn’t been a good fit for whatever reason. So the Royals fear was they would owe $12.5 million to a guy they valued around $7 million. That’s quite a gamble.
As it is, Butler is going to need to produce around 4.4 WAR over the next three years to be worth the $30 million investment. (I’ve heard rumblings of a $5 million signing bonus, which is insane. But this is free agency, so you can’t rule anything out. For the meantime, I’m working with just what we know. Which is 3/30.) Given that Butler has accumulated 9.6 fWAR in eight seasons – an average of 1.2 fWAR a year – it’s going to be close.
Butler has topped only 2 fWAR in a season on two occasions – 2010 and 2012. In between, he hit 1.3 fWAR in 2011. But he was a different hitter then. Butler’s batted ball profile had been extremely consistent over the first six years of his career. He was good for a grounder around 47 percent of the time, a fly ball 34 percent of the time and about 19 percent of his balls put in play were line drives.
That profile has changed over the last two years. Now, Butler hits grounders about 51 percent of the time, fly balls 27 percent of the time and line drives account for 22 percent.
More line drives, that’s good, right? Yes, but not when it comes at the expense of more ground balls. Butler has become a ground ball machine.
And his 2012 season where he hit 29 home runs? Clearly an outlier, built upon a 19.9 percent HR/FB rate that was unsustainable. His second highest HR/FB rate was in 2013 at 11.7 percent.
And we can’t let Butler go without acknowledging his poor baserunning. He advanced from first to third on a base hit just one time all year. That’s pretty difficult to do. According to Bill James, his net baserunning score was a -31, worst in baseball. Remove Butler from the Royals in 2013 and as a team, they are the fourth best baserunning team in the majors. With Butler, they were the tenth best. To say he was an anchor on the base paths is an understatement.
Butler is probably going to play some first base in Oakland. At least more than he would in Kansas City. That will probably boost his value since his defense is nowhere as awful as his detractors would have you believe. In fact, this part of his game has improved a great deal. I’m not going to delve into the defensive metrics here because of a minuscule sample size, so let’s just do the old eye test. His footwork around the bag, a key component for a first baseman, is much stronger. When he first came up, he played first base like a three legged stool missing one leg with the remaining two mismatched lengths. His poor defensive reputation was earned. Credit to Butler that while Ned Yost would rather be an astronaut than play Butler at first, Butler worked on his defense. It showed when he filled in for Eric Hosmer in August. Sure, he made a few blunders. (Most notably the two out, ninth inning error against Cleveland at the end of the month that led to a Royals loss in 10.) Overall, he played a solid, if unspectacular defense. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove, but as overrated as Hosmer is with the glove, Butler is may be just as underrated. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.
The Royals now have a right-handed hole to fill in their lineup. Ideally, they would sign someone like Yasmani Tomas, who hits from the right side and plays right field. That’s going to cost some serious cheddar, but if the Royals were going to pay a guy they viewed as a bat-only player around $8 million, surely they could spring a few extra dollars and get a glove to go along with the deal. But if the asking price hits $100 as rumored, there’s no way the Royals are involved in that.
Barring the signing of Tomas, I don’t see help in the free agent market. The Royals disagree and are apparently targeting Torii Hunter. If the Royals are serious, I wouldn’t give him more than a year at what they were willing to pay Butler. Hunter will turn 39 next year and is obviously in decline both offensively and defensively. Barring a free agent move, Dayton is going to have to work the room at the baseball meetings and find a dance partner for a trade. His two big trades have turned out well for the Royals. Can he pull of a third?
I’m a fan of the Royals and as such, I develop certain attachments to certain players. Damn the detractors, I’ve enjoyed Billy Butler, despite his shortcomings. It’s been a struggle to watch him hit so many balls on the ground the last couple of seasons, but I’ve always rooted for the guy. He loved Kansas City and, for the most part, Kansas City loved him back. I’ll never forget his reception at the 2012 All-Star Game, his curtain call after being removed from Game Two of the World Series for a pinch runner, and the big hits he provided along the way.
I heard the bitching about how your high-paid designated hitter needed to hit better. Sure. I get it. While Butler was probably the fifth-best regular bat in the Royals lineup in 2014, they’re going to miss a regular DH presence. Instead of bitching about a slow Billy Butler grounding into a double play, maybe we’ll meet back here to bitch about Carlos Peguro?
Butler finishes his Royals career with a slash line of .295/.359/.449. He hit 276 doubles. He ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, is eighth in games played (1,166), is seventh in hits (1,273), and is seventh in total bases (1,938). He hit .262/.327/.333 this October against the A’s, Angels, Orioles and Giants. He will be in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.
As it seems fitting, here is his final double as a Royal:
At this price, it’s time for Butler to move to the next phase of his career. Dayton Moore was smart not to get in a bidding war, not that he ever would over Butler. Still, it’s the right move for the Royals to let Butler go for the amount of money he was able to earn on the open market. I wish him luck in Oakland and I congratulate him on his contract.