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Billy Butler Rumors
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Alex Avila | Alfredo Simon | Aroldis Chapman | Atlanta Braves | Billy Butler | Boston Red Sox | Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati Reds | David Robertson | Detroit Tigers | Ervin Santana | Jay Bruce | Johnny Cueto | Jonathan Papelbon | Kansas City Royals | Mat Latos | Melky Cabrera | Mike Leake | Milwaukee Brewers | Toronto Blue Jays | Yasmany Tomas
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 him. We 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.
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.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts told Mully and Hanley of 670 The Score (via Levine) that he is interested in having extension talks with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The 40-year-old executive joined the Cubs just over three years ago on a five-year deal. Here’s more from around the big leagues.
- The Royals are not ruling out the possibility of bringing back DH Billy Butler, reports Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. While Kansas City obviously did not value him at his $12.5MM option, and had hoped to give some DH time to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, Mellinger says that Butler’s play down the stretch and in the postseason has changed the club’s thinking. Of course, his .770 OPS over the season’s last 62 games was hardly world-beating production for a bat-only player, but it did hint that his previous excellence at the plate may still be found. Mellinger theorizes that Kansas City could be willing to guarantee Butler eight figures on a two-year deal, though the lifetime Royal would probably need to forego better offers to stay — which he did say was a possibility earlier in the year.
- Free agent righty Chad Billingsley has changed his representation to Octagon’s Steve Hilliard, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). He had been a client of Dave Stewart, who of course has given up the business as part of his new career move. Billingsley, still only 30, has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with multiple elbow surgeries. In spite of his health struggles, Billingsley should draw plenty of interest as a buy-low candidate.
The Marlins hope to have Giancarlo Stanton signed to a long-term extension before the Winter Meetings, Miami president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link). Hill said that Jose Fernandez‘s rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well but the team is “not going to push anything because he is so valuable to us.” Not included in the audio link, but available via Bowden’s Twitter feed, are Hill’s remarks about wanting to add another starting pitcher and a big bat to the Marlins’ roster this offseason.
Here’s some more from around baseball…
- Ten hitters who the Mariners could pursue via trades or free agency are listed by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Victor Martinez, Michael Cuddyer and Billy Butler seem to be Seattle’s likeliest targets, Dutton believes, while players like Melky Cabrera (desire to play on the East Coast), Nelson Cruz and Yasmany Tomas (salary demands) seem unlikely to join the M’s.
- Alex Rios is likely viewed by the Mariners and other teams as “a fall-back option” if their preferred outfield choices aren’t available, Dutton writes. “Few if any” scouts would sign Rios to a two-year contract, though a one-year deal worth no more than $10MM “could be a reasonable…risk.” MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Rios would find a one-year, $8.5MM deal this winter.
- A number of trends emerged from a study of how the last 46 playoff teams allocated their payroll, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Spreading salaries around seemed to be a key factor — only nine of the 46 teams spent more than 17% of their Opening Day payroll on a single player, and the teams averaged 54.5% on their five most expensive players. Of the 46 teams studied, only two had a highest-paid player who was also their most productive player (according to WAR).
- With offense down, starting pitchers (maybe even the top arms) could see their market diminished in free agency this winter, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only piece. Conversely, this also raises the value of free agent hitters, plus some teams could receive some big returns in trades for quality bats. Olney lists a few hitters that have already been mentioned as possible trade candidates (i.e. Yoenis Cespedes and Cubs‘ middle infielders) as well as longer-shot options as Manny Machado.
- Mike Elias, the Astros‘ director of amateur scouting, discusses Houston’s scouting department, some prospects the difficulty in accurately grading hitting and a number of other topics as part of a wide-ranging interview with Fangraphs’ David Laurila.
The Royals have announced that they’ve declined their option on 1B/DH Billy Butler. They will pay Butler a $1MM buyout, and he is now a free agent. Butler, a 2004 first round pick who has spent his entire career with the organization, would like to work out a deal to stay with the Royals, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets. McCullough also notes that the Royals are interested in bringing Butler back, but at a lesser salary.
The Royals’ decision was expected. Butler’s option was for $12.5MM, a big expenditure for a small-payroll team, particularly given that his .271/.323/.379 line in 603 plate appearances this season represented his worst offensive season since 2008.