Billy Butler Rumors

West Notes: Ryu, Tomas, Butler, Rangers

The Dodgers have announced that they’ve shut down Hyun-jin Ryu with shoulder inflammation. He will be shut down for the next three days while the Dodgers determine the right course of action. Ryu had experienced shoulder tightness in his last start, during which his velocity was down. Ryu had similar shoulder issues last September, although he returned to pitch in the playoffs. There’s no indication yet that his current issues are serious, and Ryu (via a tweet from J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group) believes the injury should not keep him from being ready for the start of the season. The Dodgers could consider having him begin the season on the disabled list, however, as the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin tweets. The Dodgers don’t require a fifth starter until April 14. Here’s more from the West divisions.

  • Yasmany Tomas chose the Diamondbacks over other teams in part because he liked their front office, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. The Giants were the runners-up in the bidding for Tomas, writes Piecoro. “At the end of the day, he said, ‘I really like those people,'” says agent Jay Alou of Diamondbacks execs Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart, De Jon Watson and Junior Noboa. “These are baseball people. They get it. I think Yasmany appreciates that.” After committing $68.5MM for Tomas, the Diamondbacks now appear to be quietly considering having Tomas start the season in the minors, although they offer guarded praise for his abilities. “I really believe that a number of us in the organization believe that he could hit,” says La Russa. “If we were short and he had to play, at the end of the year he would survive.”
  • The Athletics‘ seemingly incongruous addition of Billy Butler in the offseason actually makes sense, Tony Blengino of FanGraphs writes. While Butler’s 2014 season wasn’t a good one, his underlying numbers suggest a player whose ability is closer to his .289/.374/.412 2013 season. Blengino suggests Butler has a decent chance of being as good as or better than Nelson Cruz next year, although the two players’ offensive profiles are quite different.
  • The Rangers‘ prospects give the team a bright future, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. The team still has Jorge Alfaro, Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, Keone Kela and to power-hitting prospect Joey Gallo in big-league camp. “I think they are still getting something out of being here,” says GM Jon Daniels. “Some of these guys are not very far away at all.” Relief prospect Kela has wowed scouts with his stuff, Grant says — Kela can throw 100 MPH and now also has a quality breaking ball.

AL Notes: Rays, Gutierrez, Mariners, Butler, Royals

The Rays have dramatically improved their farm system since last summer, but they’ve had to do it by trading top talent, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. Steven Souza, who Baseball America deems the system’s best prospect, arrived in the Wil Myers trade, with No. 2 prospect Daniel Robertson joining the system via the Ben Zobrist deal and No. 3 prospect Willy Adames arriving in the David Price trade. The Rays have gotten little talent in the draft lately, so their best young players have come from elsewhere. Souza, Robertson and Adames aren’t the only key prospects in their system they’ve gotten in trades — there’s also Hak-Ju Lee (from the Matt Garza deal), Boog Powell (from the Zobrist trade), Andrew Velazquez and Justin Williams (from the Jeremy Hellickson trade) and Jake Bauers and Burch Smith (from the Myers deal). “It was no secret that our minor league system didn’t have the talent that it has had in past years,” says Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. “A number of players have graduated from our system and are on our major league club or have been part of trades that we made, and that left somewhat of a void that we needed to fill during these transactions.” Here’s more from the American League.

  • The Mariners have already bolstered their outfield depth by adding Endy Chavez on a minor-league deal, and they also appear likely to add Franklin Gutierrez, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Gutierrez, who appeared in 41 games with Seattle in 2013, missed last season due to gastrointestinal issues. Mariners sources indicate that he would have to begin the year in Triple-A if he were to sign with the team.
  • Dutton also notes the Mariners appear likely to head to an arbitration hearing with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen has proposed a 2015 salary of $2.2MM, while the Mariners have countered at $1.4MM, and Dutton writes that the Mariners do not want to keep negotiating. After posting a 2.27 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 79 1/3 strong innings in 2014, Wilhelmsen is eligible for the arbitration for the first time.
  • Billy Butler signed a three-year deal with the Athletics earlier this offseason, but he wouldn’t mind returning to the Royals later in his career, Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star writes. “It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms,” Butler said. “I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there.” For now, though, Butler is happy to be with the A’s, who he says told him he was their top priority this offseason.

Quick Hits: A’s, Rockies, Morales, Albers

With the Winter Meetings just a week away, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince names the top ten Hot Stove storylines heading into December. How the top-tier starting pitcher market shakes out heads the list, according to Castrovince, who notes the trade market for the likes of Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jeff Samardzija will heat up once free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer sign. Among Castrovince’s other top headlines this month are whether the Braves trade Justin Upton and how the Red Sox and Dodgers deal with their surplus of outfielders.

Elsewhere in baseball on the final day of November:

  • After A’s GM Billy Beane signed Billy Butler to a $30MM deal and traded third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com isn’t sure what the plan is in Oakland.
  • The best way for the Rockies to become contenders is for Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to be healthy and productive, but it would be daring for GM Jeff Bridich to trade the duo in search of salary relief to address areas of concern, opines MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby.
  • The market for Kendrys Morales has been quiet to date with only the Indians being linked to the free agent DH. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweets, besides Cleveland, the Rangers and Royals are also taking a look at Morales while the Mariners and Blue Jays are possibilities, as well.
  • Left-handed starter Andrew Albers recently became a free agent and has drawn interest from a number of big league clubs, an industry source told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Albers became a free agent when South Korea’s Hanwha Eagles declined the 2015 option on his one-year deal. The Canadian pitched to a 5.84 ERA in 146 1/3 innings, though he did make 27 starts and led his team with 102 strikeouts. BN-S writes Albers appears to be seeking a split contract with incentives.


Royals GM Dayton Moore On Losing Billy Butler

Earlier today, the Royals bid farewell to slugger Billy Butler, who signed a three-year, $30MM deal with the A’s.  It wasn’t surprising to see Butler head elsewhere after KC turned down his one-year, $12.5MM club option (our own Steve Adams actually predicted the exact terms of Butler’s new contract), but the loss still stings for the Royals.  This afternoon, Royals GM Dayton Moore spoke with reporters about how the club will proceed without the the longest-tenured member of Kansas City’s roster.  After watching the former All-Star sign a hefty three-year, $30MM deal, I asked Moore if he considered exercising the club option on Butler and trading him rather than letting him leave via free agency and getting nothing.

That’s something talked about but the timing of it really didn’t allow us to do that,” Moore said.  “There was nobody really willing to do that at the time.  We just finished playing [in the World Series] and three days later we had to make a decision.  If we would have found a viable trade partner it’s something we would have done, or looked at.  I don’t know if we would have done it because I’m not sure what the package would have been, but it’s something we certainly looked at.

Ultimately, Moore admits that he misread the market when it comes to Butler, but over the years he has learned that free agency is always difficult to predict and “hindsight is 20/20.”  Even after declining the option, Moore felt that he had a good chance of retaining Butler, but things just weren’t meant to be.  Now, the Royals will have to fill the void in their lineup and they’ll explore all opportunities.  Moore hopes that he can take care of his right field need and some of the DH at bats with one signing, but he won’t pigeonhole himself.

We like our flexibility, for certain.” Moore said. “It could be one guy or we could guys a day off like [Alex] Gordon or Lorenzo [Cain] or Omar [Infante].

The Royals, Moore says, will search hard for a right-handed bat with some pop, but he also spoke at length about Kansas City’s needs in the starting rotation. That lines up with a report from Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, noting that the club has checked in with the agents for Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Jason Hammel, and Jon Lester.  Royals fans might be sad to see Butler go, but Moore insists that the club still has “plenty of room to sign a free agent or two.”


Athletics Sign Billy Butler

TODAY: The A’s have announced the signing of Butler to a three-year deal.

YESTERDAY: The Athletics have agreed to a three-year, $30MM deal with free agent DH Billy Butler, as first reported via Twitter by Robert Murray. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports that the deal is finalized.

While the contract is a surprise in many respects, its terms were predicted precisely this morning by MLBTR’s Steve Adams. As Adams explained in his profile of the designated hitter, a rough 2014 season reduced his value but certainly could not detract entirely from his solid track record and young age.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

Indeed, Butler is signing on for his age-29 through age-31 seasons, making him a good bit younger than the average free agent. And he brings excellent durability to the table, with a DL-free track  record over the past six seasons.

Given those factors, and Butler’s ultimate price tag, it is perhaps surprising that his former club — the Royals — was not able to find a taker for his $12.5MM option before declining it and setting him onto the open market. Olney tweets that K.C. was only interested in a one-year pact, though apparently the rest of the market saw things differently. Of course this is not the first and will not be the last time that a short-fused option or qualifying offer decision turns out to be (arguably) somewhat short-sighted.

Something will have to give for the A’s, whose roster is already chock full of players who occupy various value niches for the team. Oakland recently added Kyle Blanks to serve as a right-handed power option. And Craig Gentry functions as a right-handed platoon/bench bat capable of playing the corner outfield. It would certainly seem all but impossible for the team to keep each of those players, add Butler, and maintain two left-handed hitting outfield pieces (Josh Reddick and Sam Fuld) on top of three catching/first base/DH options (Derek Norris, John Jaso, and Stephen Vogt) to go with Brandon Moss and a utility infielder on the active roster.

Of course, Butler’s utility to the Athletics would increase significantly if he were capable of manning first base. It is worth noting that he has generally been successful enough against same-handed pitching over his career, posting a 108 wRC+ against righties while mashing lefties to the tune of a 142 wRC+ mark.

Though the O.co Coliseum would not appear to be the kind of park that might lead to a big jump in the long ball category, Butler probably has more in his bat than the mere nine he produced last year. And his low strikeout and high contact numbers probably bode well for the future, the key perhaps will be whether he can create enough solid contact to drive up a .310 BABIP and 6.9% HR/FB from 2014, each of which fell well below his career numbers.


Athletics Close To Three-Year Deal With Billy Butler

9:24pm: A three-year deal is “quite close,” per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Nightengale tweets that the sides are set to embark upon a three-year pact along the lines of that rumored to be agreed upon per Robert Murray (via Twitter) earlier this evening.

7:59pm: The Athletics are in “serious talks” with free agent designated hitter Billy Butler, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). As Rosenthal notes, he is confirming a report from Cover Those Bases (Twitter link).

MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently predicted a three-year, $30MM deal for the bat-only Butler, who is coming off a sub-optimal walk year but does hit the market at just 28 years of age. My personal take was that Butler would end up settling for a one-year deal since he is such an inflexible player, though the chatter to date seems to indicate that he will have little difficulty getting a multi-year guarantee.

It is unclear, of course, what the A’s interest means. On the one hand, the club would seem unlikely to commit a significant amount of cash over multiple years, given its traditional reliance on a mix-and-match DH spot. On the other, it would appear that Butler is not wanting for suitors.


Free Agent Profile: Billy Butler

Billy Butler, the longest-tenured member of the Royals’ roster, finally got to experience a postseason run with the team after years of false hope and a near-miss. However, the team bought out Butler’s $12.5MM club option, so “Country Breakfast” may be looking for a new home coming off a disappointing season.

Strengths/Pros

Even in a down season, Butler hit .271 with a .323 on-base percentage. Both marks are better than the league average for hitters, and he’s typically posted significantly better marks. In the four years prior to 2014, Butler’s average sat between .289 and .318, while his OBP sat between .361 and .388. A lifetime .295/.359/.445 hitter, Butler has always been a good source of average and OBP.

Billy  Butler

Butler has a pair of 20-homer seasons under his belt, including a 29-homer campaign as recently as 2012. From 2008-13, he averaged 18 homers per season despite playing his home games at the very spacious Kaufman Stadium. It’s not unreasonable to think that moving to a smaller park that is more hitter-friendly would up his home run production.

At just 28 years of age (29 next April), Butler is among the youngest free agents on this year’s market. He’s also been highly durable, never having been placed on the disabled list and averaging 158 games per year over the past six seasons. His age and spotless injury history make it easier to write off his 2014 slump as a fluke than if he were on the wrong side of 30 with a troublesome injury history.

Butler rarely strikes out (14.5 percent for his career, 15.9 percent in 2014), and his 82.5 percent contact rate in 2014 was well above the league average. His deflated numbers seem mostly attributable to a dip in his batting average on balls in play and a sharp drop in his homer-to-flyball ratio. Players rarely see their power disappear at Butler’s age, giving further reason to hope for a rebound. His numbers were better from June 1 through season’s end — .282/.333/.417 — and he wasn’t the recipient of a qualifying offer.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Butler’s career marks are solid, there’s no getting around the fact that he was a full-time designated hitter who didn’t hit well in 2014. Butler finished the season with below-average marks in context-neutral stats like OPS+ (95) and wRC+ (97). While even those marks would be an improvement over some teams’ DH production from 2014, it’s tough to market a below-average bat as a full-time DH. Agent Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency will need to emphasize Butler’s track record of solid production and paint 2014 as an aberration.

Most will see Butler as a strict DH at this point. He’s totaled just 623 1/3 innings at first base over the past four seasons combined, and he’s never graded out as a plus defender at the position. Unsurprisingly, he’s also been about five to six runs below average per season on the basepaths, according to Fangraphs.

While Butler has historically been a solid contributor in terms of average and on-base percentage, his 6.8 percent walk rate in 2014 was a career-worst. And, he’s never shown the plus power that one would ideally prefer to see from a full-time DH. He did post a .197 isolated power mark in his 29-homer season in 2012, and he registered a .191 mark in 2009 when he hit 21 homers and 51 doubles. Still, even excluding his down 2014 season, Butler has a .161 career ISO, which is more good than great.

Personal

Butler and his wife, Katie, have two children. Together, the couple started the Hit It A Ton hunger relief campaign in which Butler donated $250 for every homer he hit and $125 for every double he hit — money that he urges fans and businesses to match, with the proceeds going to the Bishop Sullivan Center and St. James Place in Kansas City.

Butler is well-liked by teammates with the Royals. Raul Ibanez described Butler as “fun-loving” to Tyler Kepner of the New York Times this October. Butler is popular among Kansas City fans and drew high praise from manager Ned Yost for his intelligence and professionalism, per MLB.com’s Phil Rogers.

Market

Because he’ll most likely be viewed strictly as a designated hitter, Butler’s market should be confined to American League clubs with openings at DH (though one report did note that an NL club showed interest). That would seem to eliminate the Red Sox (David Ortiz) Tigers (Victor Martinez) and Yankees (Alex Rodriguez/Carlos Beltran). The Twins (Kennys Vargas) have a younger option at DH as well.

The White Sox, Mariners and Blue Jays were all linked to Martinez, so they stand as reasonable fits for Butler, who could be seen as an alternative. Seattle has been linked to Butler on the trade market in each of the past two offseasons. The Indians received some of the worst production in baseball at DH last year, so they seem like a fit if they’re able to move Nick Swisher or are comfortable playing him in right field (with David Murphy slotting into a reserve role or being traded). The Angels make sense if C.J. Cron‘s OBP woes are enough to instill doubt. Baltimore, too, could be a good fit if Nelson Cruz walks, and the A’s don’t have a set DH either.

Of course, Butler has been vocal about his desire to remain with the Royals, and a return to Kansas City certainly cannot be ruled out. He’d have to settle for a lower annual value than that of his $12.5MM club option, however. The two sides have reportedly already had at least one meeting, with the Royals said to prefer a two-year deal.

Expected Contract

Lengthy multi-year deals for strict DHs tend to be reserved for elite bats coming off strong seasons, but Butler is younger than the typical free agent. Age is one of the primary factors on the open market, and it’s for that reason that I can envision him landing a few multi-year offers.

I can see Butler taking a one-year deal with a solid annual value if no multi-year deals that his camp deems acceptable materialize, but I can also see him receiving a three-year pact at a smaller AAV. Overall, Butler’s been a plus hitter in a large park with just one below-average offensive season under his belt dating back to 2009. A one-year deal worth $12-13MM or so might be on the table, but I can also see three-year offers from a team that feels he can return to his ways as a strong OBP source with respectable, albeit non-elite pop.

Rumors circulated last week that the Orioles had made a three-year, $30MM offer to Butler, although GM Dan Duquette steadfastly denied that report. That figure is one of many that I’d kicked around with Tim Dierkes of MLBTR prior to the GM Meetings. If he’s truly received an offer in that range and not accepted, then perhaps this prediction will be inaccurate. But a three-year, $30MM contract was my previous expectation, and I’m sticking to that pick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Central Links: Reds, Cubs, Avila, Tigers, Tomas, Butler

Reds GM Walt Jocketty is of the mindset that his team will need to either be “all in” or “all out” in 2015, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. In other words, if the Reds decide to trade one of four starters who is eligible for free agency following the 2015 season — Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — others may very well follow. Sherman lists Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman as names to watch if Cincinnati does elect to go into a full rebuild. Both can be free agents after 2016, though the Reds have a club option on Bruce for the 2017 season.

Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…

  • Sherman also tweets that the Cubs aren’t likely to spend big on a closer this winter, which seemingly eliminates a potential suitor for David Robertson. Earlier today, reports indicated that Robertson is seeking a contract comparable to Jonathan Papelbon‘s four-year, $50MM contract.
  • The Tigers are willing to listen to offers on Alex Avila, tweets the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Avila has a $5.4MM club option for his final arb year and was projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn the same amount in arbitration. Cafardo notes that the Braves and Red Sox are both looking for left-handed bats. While both have inexperienced catchers (Christian Bethancourt and Christian Vasquez, respectively), adding Avila would limit each team’s ability to get an extended look at how their young backstop handles a full workload.
  • John Manuel of Baseball America tweets that the Tigers‘ defense up the middle in 2015 could be special with Jose Iglesias and the newly acquired Anthony Gose. He also notes that Devon Travis, who went to the Blue Jays in the deal, now has a clear shot to Major League playing time that he may not have had in Detroit.
  • The Royals could scout Yasmany Tomas in the Dominican Republic next week, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. Royals officials will be in the Dominican Republic on other business anyway and met with Tomas’ agent, Jay Alou, earlier this week at the GM Meetings. The team’s payroll could surpass the $100MM mark for the first time next season, and there’s perhaps room for one significant expenditure such as Tomas, Ervin Santana or Melky Cabrera, McCullough writes.
  • Billy Butler is receiving interest from a number of clubs — even one National League club — tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The interest in Butler likely means that a return to the Royals isn’t the best fit, he adds. McCullough reported Tuesday that K.C. doesn’t seem inclined to go beyond two years to retain Butler.
  • Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wonders if the Brewers will consider trading a starting pitcher (Twitter link). The Brew Crew needs some payroll flexibility, and the Braves are one team that has been poking around at the GM Meetings.

AL East Notes: Andrus, Butler, Markakis, BoSox

It would be “the longest of long shots” if the Yankees acquired Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus this offseason, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports.  Andrus’ eight-year, $120MM extension begins in 2015 and the Yankees aren’t interested in paying that type of superstar money to a player who hasn’t yet delivered on that level.  “You would have to hope he turned a big corner if you took on that contract,” an executive tells Feinsand. “If he never gets any better, that’s a lot of money for a good — but pretty ordinary — player.”  Ironically, the Yankees’ long-standing interest in Andrus was part of the reason why Texas extended him in the first place, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes.  It’s worth noting that Andrus has opt-out clauses in his deal after both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, so the financial commitment may not quite be as lengthy as it seems.

Here’s some more from around the AL East…

  • There isn’t any truth to reports that the Orioles made a three-year, $30MM offer to Billy Butler, a member of the organization tells MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko.  While the O’s have had interest in Butler, Kubatko feels the team wouldn’t spend that much on a full-time DH.
  • The Orioles will meet with Nick Markakis‘ agent Jamie Murphy today, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter).  The O’s are still seen as the favorites to sign Markakis, though the Blue Jays and other teams are interested in the veteran outfielder.  Earlier this week, Murphy said that the Orioles weren’t one of the several teams he planned to speak with about his client during the GM Meetings.
  • Though Yoenis Cespedes‘ name has frequently been mentioned in trade rumors, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told reporters (including MLB.com’s Ian Browne) that those rumors aren’t “based in any sort of evidence. We’re happy to have himWe felt like as we were building a lineup for next year, adding that power element in the middle of the lineup was critically important to us. So now that we have it, we’re not really anxious to give it away. We believe he’s very important in 2015, and 2015 is very important to us.”
  • Cherington spent “an extended period of time” talking with Jon Lester‘s agents last night, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford tweets.
  • The Rays interviewed Giants bench coach Ron Wotus about their managerial opening yesterday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.  Of the ten candidates on the Rays’ list, the team still has to speak to Barry Larkin, Doug Glanville and Kevin Cash before getting into the second round of interviews.
  • In other AL East news from earlier today, we published a collection of Blue Jays notes, the Yankees signed lefty Jose De Paula and the Orioles are shopping right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.

Royals Meeting With Billy Butler Today

The Royals will meet with Billy Butler‘s agents from the Legacy Agency today to discuss the possibility of re-signing their DH, reports ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). However, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star gets the sense (Twitter link) that the Royals aren’t interested in going beyond a two-year deal to retain Butler, whose $12.5MM club option was declined in favor of a $1MM buyout.

Butler has spent his entire career with the Royals and owns a lifetime .295/.359/.449 batting line. However, his offense took a step back in 2013, and he graded out as a below-average hitter (95 OPS+) in 2014. I doubt that two years is of too much interest to a 29-year-old free agent, although the market for Butler is more limited than it is for most players, as he figures to only draw interest from AL clubs, and those with full-time DHs obviously won’t be a factor in his market.