Butler for Shields: It Makes Too Much Sense


September 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) hits a home run during the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

So many trade rumors swirling around. So much trade talk flying everywhere. It’s hard to keep track of it all. It’s hard to think that the Royals will make it through the next month without sending their whole roster to Tampa, Seattle, or Oakland. It scares me a bit, as I’m always afraid of the lopsided trade that goes against the Royals.

For the most part, I feel like most of this talk is nonsense. I think the Royals are exploring all of these options, but I also think there’s really only one option that makes sense (of course this doesn’t preclude the Royals from making a move that makes no sense): Bill Butler for James Shields.

I came to think conclusion while trying to consider what would serve both teams best, and this is all I came up with. All the other scenarios just don’t add up. Wil Myers is too valuable for different reasons (potential value at the major league level and years of team control at a cheap price). Alex Gordon is also too valuable at 6-7 WAR unless Tampa is considering trading Matt Moore, which I don’t think they are. Mike Moustakas has no value to Tampa, and the prospects for Seattle either aren’t good enough for the Royals’ needs (a number one type starting pitcher) or aren’t ready yet (Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker). It’s a matter of the three major compenents coming together: performance value, need, and contract.

Butler for Shields is the only combo that makes that trinity work because each team gets equal value for something they desperately need, and the contracts essentially even out. Shields put up a 4.3 WAR last season, which is really great for a pitcher. He’s good for around a 3.5-4 WAR easily. Butler put up a 3.2, his best ever, and is poised to repeat that performance, as he’s entering his prime hitting years. So, Shields may be a little more valuable using that metric, but I’d call it roughly a wash. I think that metric overvalues defensive contribution and baserunning and thus undervalues players like Butler who primarily DH and can’t run.

Obviously, the Royals need starting pitching, but more pointedly, they need ace-like starting pitching. Is Shields and “ace”? If not, he’s damn close. He’s gone over 200 innings every season since 2007. He’s had a xFIP from 3.24-3.87 since 2007. His K/9 rate has been over eight since 2010. His BB/9 is 2.35 and under since 2007.  And for those of you who like the old-school ERA, four of his six full seasons have been mid-threes or below.

On the other side of the coin, the Rays need a difference maker with the bat. Butler is most certainly that. His slash line last season was stellar, .313/.373/.510. His power numbers were up, 29 homeruns and an ISO of .197. Maybe most importantly, no one for Tampa with more than 400 PA had a higher wRC+ (weighted runs created in relation to league average). Butler’s wRC+ was 140, meaning he created 40% more runs than league average, which tied him with David Wright, Josh Hamilton, and Joe Mauer. That’s very good company to be in, and the Rays need that type of offense to compete in what is now a somewhat weakened AL East. Butler provides a consistent and ascending middle of the order hitter.

September 3, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws a pitch in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

One of the big holdups I have with the Royals trading Myers is that he’s under cheap team control for a long time, while the player they get in return may not be. I’d hate to end up in a Brewers-Greinke situation in which we give up a potentially great player(s) with many years of team control for a good player we’re renting for a year or a year and a half. Butler for Shields doesn’t present this problem. Butler has one more year on his contract than Shields does, but for the Royals that shouldn’t make much of a difference. The Royals could keep Shields for 2013 and 2014 for roughly $21 million, with 2014 being a team option year at $12 million.* Butler is due $16 million over the next two seasons guaranteed, but has a team option for 2015 at $12.5 million. This makes Butler a little more valuable contract-wise, but it may make up for what may be seen as a little less value in performance. That said, neither is in the young and cheap phase of his career, but both seem to be worth the money they’re paid. With Butler and Luke Hochevar’s contracts off the payroll (I’ll pack Hoch’s bags for him), and with Bruce Chen, Jeff Francoeur, and Ervin Santana coming off next year, the Royals could afford to keep Shields for both years if they wanted to. And the Rays would save money trading for Butler since he costs less than Shields.

*These contract numbers are according to Baseball Reference, and I’m not sold that their numbers are completely legit. They may just be base salary, no incentives or anything. I’m not sure, but other sites have differing numbers.

The only question I really have is, why isn’t this getting done? What’s the hold up? I mean, either side (probably the Royals), may need to throw in some low-level prospects. Nothing too fancy, maybe someone like Kyle Smith or Jorge Bonifacio or Cheslor Cuthbert. Nothing so prized as Kyle Zimmer or Adalberto Mondesi. Both sides are winners in this scenario. It makes too much sense not to do it.