By now I imagine all of you have heard that the Royals signed Billy Butler to a new contract: $3 million this season, $8 million for 2012, 2013 and 2014 and a team option for 2015 ($12.5 million). For giving up three years of arbitration and two years of free agency, Billy gets a $2 million signing bonus as well.
On the surface, a good deal for the Royals as they get some cost certainty on their best hitter and a couple of extra years of service and a good deal for Butler. After all, at age twenty-four, locking in $30 million guaranteed is a solid deal. What’s the downside for Billy? He becomes a true monster at the plate and plays in 2015 for $12.5 million instead of $18.5? Somehow, I think he’ll be able to feed the family.
Many across the internet have already analyzed the deal. Royals Review breaks in down by WAR and dollars. Royally Speaking brings some interesting comps to Butler to our attention. Royalscentricity chimes in and 14 for 77 is happy with the contract. Frankly, few seem unhappy with the deal and there is really no reason not to be.
For the casual fan, here is your Kansas City Royals signing a good player to a long-term deal. For the more engaged Royals’ follower, you have a young player who has already proven he can hit, signed to a deal that eliminates the nasty overtones and uncertainty of arbitration for the next three years, keeps him in the fold well into the time period when you assume the Royals will be contenders and, if all else fails, makes him a favorable trading chip.
Currently, his age 24 comp at Baseball Reference is Jon Olerud. As I discussed some time back, that name may not send you into dances of joy, but going back and looking at his career it would be hard to be mad about Billy Butler duplicating Olerud’s numbers. If we reach the end of 2015 and Butler’s line for the life of this contract is an Olerudish .295/.398/.465, the deal would have to be considered a tremendous success. The truth is, Billy might well put up numbers greater than those.
Of course, the primary criticism (other than the obsession with Butler’s 32 grounding into double plays last year that somehow became tremendously more horrible than Yuniesky Betacourt’s sub-.300 on-base percentage) with Billy is that he likely is well down the path of becoming a full-time designated hitter. With thirty-six home runs over the past two years, he is not the Thome-like masher we generally equate with that position.
As Nick pointed out in his positional reviews, however, designated hitter is not the productive jackpot we think it is or should be. In 2010, American League designated hitters posted a combined line of .252/.332/.426/.758 with an average of 30 doubles and 22 home runs. Butler’s .857 OPS in 2010, had it been used entirely at DH would have put the Royals’ production from that position at third in the league. According to Fangraphs, Butler’s 2010 WAR of 3.4 would have ranked him as the most productive full-time DH – just edging David Ortiz.
While Butler may not be the prototypcial designated hitter, he is certainly very good. He is very good even in a world where hitting 21 home runs in 2009 and 15 home runs in 2010 (not to mention 96 doubles Billy hit in those two seasons) somehow makes you a ‘slow singles hitter’. Let’s face it, at age twenty-four, if Butler never touches a glove again and never advances his power beyond the 15 to 20 home run range, this will still be an excellent contract and Billy will still be valuable piece of the Royals’ batting order.
One of the few concerns I read about this contract extension was the ‘logjam at first base and designated hitter’. Readers of this site well know by belief that Kila Ka’aihue can hit (or at least deserves a chance to prove it), but he has yet to provehe can hit. Eric Hosmer, for all his potential, has the exact same number of major league hits as I do. Clint Robinson obliterated the Texas League last year and is another of my favorites, but then Justin Huber once upon a time obliterated the Texas League as well.
When and if Kila, Hosmer, Robinson and Wil Myers (moving to the outfield by the way) all come to the majors and hit, then we’ll worry about a logjam. If that point is ever reached, then Butler’s contract will likely be an asset instead of a liability.
It is quite possible, even if Butler just makes incremental improvements in his offense, that this contract extension might well be one of Dayton Moore’s best moves in his general manager career.