Billy Butler’s Time with Royals Officially Over; Headed to Oakland


Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew this was a possibility, but I never wanted to actually see it happen. Even when he became a free agent, I didn’t allow myself to be fully prepared for what was a near-inevitability.

Billy Butler‘s career as a Royal is now officially over, as he’s agreed to sign a 3-year, $30 million contract with the Athletics, pending a physical.

The announcement brought with it a wide array of feelings. Sadness to see Butler go. Happiness that he received a great contract with a great organization. Disappointment that he won’t be in a Royals uniform on Opening Day. And, oddly enough, a bit of relief that the Royals were not willing to hand him that kind of paycheck.

I want to make something abundantly clear here: I think 2014 was an aberration, and I think Butler will return to something like his career norms in 2015. It’s possible he’s starting to decline, but one down year after a five-year stretch of very good hitting is not enough to fully convince me of that. It’s clearly not enough to convince Billy Beane, either.

I didn’t think it would be wise to give Butler a 3-year deal for that much money, mostly because I didn’t think it would take that much to sign a player coming off a poor season, and while I’m expecting a bounce-back, there’s enough risk present in a deal of the length to give me some pause. But, I would have loved to see him back for the next 2 years at about $8 million per year.

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  • Some may suggest Butler had a “disappointing” 2013, but his 117 wRC+ was still good enough for 2nd-best among regulars, and almost on par with Eric Hosmer‘s career-high 120 wRC+. There were a few concerning trends for Butler in 2014, but more than likely, this was a temporary blip.

    Between 2009-2013, Butler had a wRC+ of 126, which was tied for the 20th-best in the league during that time. It was a better mark than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, and only slightly behind Mark Teixeira and Adrian Beltre. His 2012 season may have been an outlier in terms of home run power, but Butler’s track record extends well beyond a single season.

    I mentioned on this week’s podcast that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Butler and Victor Martinez put up similar offensive seasons in 2015. They were similar hitters in their careers before 2014, and Martinez’s monster year at 35 isn’t likely to repeat itself. Martinez just signed a $68 million contract over 4 years, so maybe I shouldn’t be that shocked at the amount of Butler’s deal, and yet, here I am.

    Perhaps it’s not just the money that surprised me, but the team paying that money. The A’s have used a DH rotation for the last few years, they tend to acquire hitters with high fly ball rates, they seem to find great buy-low candidates, and they use a lot of platoons.

    Butler can play first base, but is mostly a DH. He hits a lot of ground balls. He’s being paid like more than a buy-low candidate. He could be a platoon bat, but if he’s only playing against lefties, paying him $30 million makes no sense.

    I suppose the A’s might use him more at first base, and there is some thought that diversifying a lineup with different skill sets could be more effective than a lineup full of fly ball hitters. Perhaps his contract was an indicator that Butler’s value was not nearly as low as we thought. Still, I’m left wondering what the A’s plan to do with their new $30 million man.

    This just didn’t seem like a typical Oakland A’s transaction, and that confused me. That confusion mixed with the sadness, and the happiness, and the relief, only to create more confusion, but this is a Royals blog, so enough about the A’s. I’ll let the fine folks at Swingin’ A’s handle the more in-depth analysis on the deal and what it means for their team.

    As for Butler, I wish him nothing but the absolute best. I hope he performs well enough in the next 3 years to get another 3-year deal, if not more. Butler dealt with a lot of losing teams in Kansas City, and oftentimes, he was one of the only bright spots. He deserved every second of the team’s success in 2014, even though he had a poor year at the plate. I just hope Royals fans remember Butler’s entire tenure with the organization instead of focusing on a couple of bad months.

    He should find himself in the Royals Hall of Fame at some point in the next decade or so. For those who scoff at that statement, here are Butler’s ranks in franchise history for several offensive categories:

    Games: 8th (1,166)
    Plate appearances: 8th (4,811)
    Hits: 7th (1,273)
    Doubles: 6th (276)
    Home runs: 7th (127)
    RBI: 6th (628)

    There is no question that Butler is one of the greatest hitters in Royals history, and when he returns to Kauffman Stadium in April next year, he should be treated as such. Anyone who doesn’t give him a standing ovation should be immediately shunned and sent to the corner to think about what they’ve done. Or not done.

    Even in this down season, Butler’s production in August – when he had to fill in for an injured Hosmer –  was one of the biggest reasons for the Royals’ late season push. Without Butler’s terrific play, the Royals would have found themselves in a much deeper hole in the division, and who knows if they would have been able to even make the Wild Card game?

    Butler didn’t have a great postseason, but he came up with some absolutely massive hits at opportune times, and his stolen base against the Angels in the ALDS was yet another unforgettable moment from this year.

    And it’s not just Butler’s work on the field that earned our respect. His “Hit it a Ton” program helped feed countless families in need, and his other charitable contributions in the Kansas City area will have long-lasting positive effects on so many people. Butler has been nothing but an upstanding citizen in addition to a great hitter, and I am very sad to see him leave.

    It is possible Butler could return to the Royals in a few years, but if he never steps in the batter’s box as a Royal again, his legacy will be that of one of the most productive hitters in franchise history, a great teammate, and a key cog in the Royals’ return to national relevance. I was hoping he could help the Royals defend their American League championship, but now he’ll be chasing that crown in another uniform.