Kila Ka'aihue Rumors
With Zack Greinke now a Milwaukee Brewer, the last thing Royals fans want to think about is another of their team's few established stars leaving Kauffman Stadium. No, it's not Joakim Soria, but rather Billy Butler. The young first baseman is headed to arbitration for the first time this winter, and how the Royals approach this situation will tell us if the club considers Butler to be part of their long-term plans.
Butler, 24, has blossomed into one of the game's up-and-coming stars, posting an .855 OPS over the last two seasons as Kansas City's everyday first baseman. Even though his home run numbers dropped from 21 in 2009 to 15 last season, Butler is still far and away the biggest threat in the K.C. lineup, especially now that David DeJesus has been traded.
With Butler's production and young age in mind, surely it makes sense for the Royals to sign Butler to an extension that carries at least through his arbitration years, right? Well, not necessarily. The Royals already have another promising first baseman on the major league roster in Kila Ka'aihue, and another (Eric Hosmer) is one of the top prospects in K.C.'s vaunted minor league system.
Ka'aihue got his first significant taste of major league playing time last season. He posted a .702 OPS in 206 plate appearances overall, and hit .274/.361/.548 playing every day in September. The Hawaii native has put up big minor league numbers over the last three years, and though it took him six years just to reach Triple-A, Ka'aihue began his pro career at age 18 and only turns 27 in March.
Hosmer was picked third overall by K.C. in the 2008 amateur draft, and has so far lived up to that selection by hitting .298/.378/.483 in his three pro seasons. Hosmer is projected to move up to Triple-A in 2011 and barring any unexpected setbacks will be a huge part of the Royals' future.
The question facing the cash-conscious Royals is simple: do they lock up Butler now in the hopes that he'll be entering his prime years when the club is ready to contend in 2013, or do the Royals shop Butler at the trade deadline and see if they can score even more premium prospects for the first baseman? If Butler is dealt, then Ka'aihue takes over first base duties and it frees up the DH spot for Hosmer in 2012 and beyond (or, vice versa, with Hosmer at first and Ka'aihue as the DH).
If the Royals sign Butler to a big multi-year extension, then they're going all-in with him and Ka'aihue becomes the one on the trading block once Hosmer is ready. If the Royals sign Butler to just a one-year contract for 2011 (worth probably between $3-4MM), then the team is basically just holding off on any long-term decisions until they can see what they really have in Ka'aihue and Hosmer. If I had to guess, I'd say the latter option is more likely to happen, though K.C. might also feel a Butler deal covering two arbitration years makes financial sense and gives a team a bit of good local press in the wake of the Greinke trade.
Baseball America's Matt Eddy gave his weekly look at some of the comings and goings in the minors. Here are few of the notable names involved in this week's report....
- Milwaukee signed outfielder Josh Anderson, who was just released last week by the Reds. Anderson's career .665 OPS isn't much to look at, but the Kentucky native is a decent base-stealer --- he had 25 swipes out of 30 attempts with Kansas City and Detroit in 2009.
- Utilityman Kory Casto was signed by Arizona. Casto last played in the majors in 2008 with Washington, and he has posted a .540 OPS in 239 career plate appearances. He split his time at first, third and in the outfield for Triple-A Syracuse in 2009. Casto signed a minor league deal with Detroit over the winter but was released in April.
- Right-hander Devern Hansack was released by the Red Sox. Hansack pitched relatively well in limited action with Boston from 2006 to 2008, posting a 3.70 ERA and a 5:00 K/BB ratio in nine career major league games, three of them starts.
- Veteran catcher J.R. House, who last played in the majors in 2008, was signed by the Mets. Originally drafted by Pittsburgh in 1999, House was ranked at the 21st best prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the 2001 season.
- Rough week in the Ka'aihue household: Kila was sent back down to Triple-A by the Royals, and younger brother Kala was released by the Athletics. Kala Ka'aihue put up some impressive power numbers of his own in his first four seasons in the minors, but struggled over his last two years in the Atlanta and Oakland systems.
A roundup of some news on this Thursday night...
- In an interview on CSNNE's Sports Tonight show, Josh Beckett said he would "probably not" negotiate with the Red Sox about a new contract once the season begins. WEEI's Rob Bradford reports on Beckett's appearance here.
- Bobby Cox thinks Chipper Jones will play out the final three years on his contract, reports David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jones was hinting at retirement last fall in the wake of his disappointing (for him) 2009 campaign, but thus far in spring training, O'Brien reports that Jones has been nothing but enthusiastic about Atlanta's chances this season.
- In an interview with Jane Lee of MLB.com, Jack Cust confirms what we all thought about this winter's crop of free agents at outfield and DH: "it just wasn't a very good market unless you're Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. Even for those guys, I don't think the interest level was as high as they may have thought it to be. Unless you're one of those big dudes, you take what you can get."
- Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com says that the Cubs have some interest in Luke Gregerson and/or Jason Frasor.
- Jon Paul Morosi tweets that there is "not much new" going on with the negotiations between Joe Mauer and the Twins.
- MLB.com's Anthony DiComo reports that Alex Rodriguez offered Johnny Damon some free agency advice this winter. Oh, so THAT's why it took so long for Damon to sign...
- We had heard about Toronto's possible interest in Jose Julio Ruiz, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian now reports that the Jays may be looking at another Cuban prospect: Adeiny Hechevarria.
- Dick Kaegel of MLB.com reports that the Royals agreed to terms with Josh Fields and Kila Ka'aihue on one-year contracts. Terms were not disclosed, but Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweeted that neither deal is expected to exceed $500K.