It’s difficult to imagine the 2015 Royals winning a World Series with Billy Butler in place of Kendrys Morales.
It was a bittersweet day when the Royals parted ways with Billy Butler. The lifelong Royal had been considered among the best pure hitters in baseball prior to his somewhat rapid regression. Kansas City, coming off its first playoff berth in nearly 30 years, had a tough decision to make; resign a fan-favorite player in serious decline, or come up with a better solution for both the present, and the future. When Billy Butler received a 3 year 30 million dollar offer from the Oakland A’s, Butler gave the Royals a chance to match the offer. The Kansas City Royals declined to match, instead, opting to sign Kendrys Morales to fill the void.
Many will remember 2012 as the year Robinson Cano didn’t bring along Billy Butler for the home run derby in Kansas City. More importantly, it was most likely the peak of Butler’s career. He hit 29 home runs and slashed .313/.373/.510, easily the best season of his career in Kansas City. Butler’s abysmal final season in KC makes it easy to forget how good Billy actually hit in his prime. He slashed just .271/.323/.379 and hit 9 measly home runs.
Having been such a consistent hitter for so long, it was shocking to see such a steep decline. But from 2009 to 2013, he was certainly no slouch. Butler’s combined OPS of .841 was good for 20th overall in the American League during that period. Number 23 on that list is none other than Kendrys Morales with an .833 OPS.
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Most are aware of the infamous “walk off grand slam gone wrong,” in which Morales injured his ankle upon reaching home plate. The injury caused him to miss the majority of the 2010 season, and all of the 2011 season. The timing was less than ideal for Morales, who was coming off a fantastic 2009 in which he finished 5th in the American League MVP vote, belted 34 home runs, and slashed .306/.355/.569.
After the 2013 season, Morales became a free agent after two pretty good seasons returning from the injury. Hoping for a lucrative multi-year deal, he waited all the way into the regular season, finally signing just a 1 year deal with Minnesota in early June. The whole thing backfired and Morales, without a normal spring training, was lagging behind. He finished 2014 with a brutal .218/.274/.338 line and just 8 homers.
In all honestly, neither player seemed like a good idea to pursue at the time. Butler’s mysterious regression was certainly a huge red flag, yet it was also uncertain whether Morales lackluster 2014 represented his current abilities, or if his late start to the season was the culprit for the down year. So when the Royals announced the signing of Morales, they were justifiably criticized considering Morales horrid 2014. Guaranteeing a player 17 million dollars after his worst season is sort of bizarre, and was arguably a riskier move than resigning Butler. But man, the Royals really got this one right.
In his first season with the Royals, Morales slashed .290/.362/.485 with 22 home runs, 41 doubles, 81 runs scored, 106 runs batted in, and a career high on base percentage. His .847 OPS ranked 13th in the American League, and his 131 wRC+ ranked him 12th in the league. Overall, 2015 was Morales’ best major league season since 2009. Butler, on the other hand, had arguably his worst season in the big leagues. Prior to 2015, Butler’s career slash was .295/.359/.449. In 2015, he produced an ugly .251/.323/.390 line with just 15 home runs. In his best season, Butler produced an .882 OPS and 139 wRC+ while driving in 107 runs, scoring 72 times, and hitting 29 home runs. Morales first season as a Royal nearly matched Butler’s best!
It’s obvious the Royals did their homework on Morales to have the confidence to offer a two-year deal, but I suspect even Dayton Moore and the front office didn’t expect such great production. Adding a legitimate power threat to the middle of an already good lineup took the Royals to the next level offensively. With all due respect to Billy, It’s difficult to imagine the 2015 Royals winning a World Series with Butler in place of Morales. Needless to say, Dayton Moore and the Royals have hit the jackpot with this signing.