Billy Butler says he doesn’t believe his time with the Royals organization is finished despite signing with the Oakland A’s as a free agent this offseason.
Butler, 28, who was inducted Sunday into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Athletics in mid-November after the Royals declined his option for 2015.
“It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms,” Butler said. “I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there.
“The memories there are for a lifetime. I think, down the road, I’ll be back either as a coach or still playing, doing something — scouting or whatever it is — to help the organization that took a chance on me and drafted me.”
Never miss a local story.
Butler had been the longest-tenured player on a Royals team that snapped a 29-year playoff drought and reached the World Series last season.
The Royals drafted Butler in the first round, No. 14 overall, in 2004. He batted .295 with 127 home runs and 628 RBIs in eight seasons.
Butler — who is originally from Orange Park, Fla., but now resides in Phoenix — was the club’s All-Star representative in 2012 when the game was played at Kauffman Stadium. He ranks fourth in career average and seventh in hits (1,273) with the club.
“Right now, it doesn’t even feel like I’m with a different team yet, because we haven’t started yet,” Butler said. “It will be different when spring training starts and I’m making the trip to Mesa, not Surprise like I’ve done basically, I feel like, my whole life now.”
Butler’s dad, J.D. Butler, said he and his son made the trip to Springfield for the induction ceremony “a boys’ weekend.”
“Billy didn’t have to accept it,” J.D. Butler said. “He could have waited for another year, but with everything that happened this year it was appropriate. We felt like this was the right exit statement, if you would, to come and do this.”
Billy Butler was shocked when he received the phone call informing him that he’d been elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2015 class.
After being assured that other players had been enshrined during their playing careers, he agreed to take part in the ceremony.
“I never envisioned this, just concentrated on playing baseball,” Butler said. “This kind of stuff happens if you play long enough. I feel very blessed to be playing and, unfortunately, it’s for a different team, but it’s the major leagues and my career is still going. To have one of these accolades already is a tremendous honor.”
Butler won’t have to wait long to return to Kauffman Stadium. The A’s play in Kansas City April 17-19, the same weekend he turns 29 years old.
Butler said he gave the Royals an opportunity to match Oakland’s offer, but the club obviously chose to go in a different direction.
“The payroll wasn’t there for what they were trying to do, so they declined the option, but they said, ‘Just keep us involved in whatever offer you get, we’ll take it to the Glass family,’ ” Butler said. “It just didn’t work out under their plan, but, of course, I would have loved to stay.”
He’s also happy to be with the A’s.
“They basically told me I was their No. 1 target in the offseason,” Butler said. “(Oakland general manager Billy Beane) said I’d be a big part of what they’re doing for the next three years.”
Butler admits there was some shock when Beane dismantled the team after signing him, trading away third baseman Josh Donaldson and outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss as well as right-hander Jeff Samardzija, but he has faith in the organization’s history of success.
“He’s a tremendous G.M.,” Butler said of Beane. “Obviously, you can see the way he’s constructed the team through the years, but obviously he’s made a lot of moves. … I’m looking at hitting between Moss and Donaldson or however you want to construct that. Now, within a matter of weeks, Donaldson’s gone, Samardzjia’s gone and Moss is gone.”
Of course, Butler got used to that with the Royals, too.
“They’re under extreme financial pressure, so it’s no different than the Royals with their payroll,” he said. “They have a budget, and they have to stay to that. The way they’ve orchestrated it year in and year out has been admirable. (Beane) has always been aggressive. That’s the way he’s been, so you have to respect what he’s done.”
Still, Butler joked, he’s renting rather than buying in the Bay Area.
“With as quick as Billy Beane trades ’em, I don’t know if I should buy anything,” he said with a smile.
Butler’s offseason move remains an adjustment for the entire family.
“We’re still numb,” J.D. Butler said. “We’re putting on Oakland Athletics T-shirts and looking at ourselves in the mirror, trying to think, ‘How does this work?’ … Initially, it’d be lying to say anytime something like that happens that your first reaction is ‘they don’t want you anymore.’ There’s a certain level of rejection. I think Billy felt a little rejected, but, after 10 years in one spot, that’s a natural feeling.”
J.D. Butler said he is grateful that Billy at least got to help the Royals complete a decades-long turnaround and return to the postseason.
“I mean, if you’ve got to go, what a way to go — going 90 feet away from the top of the barrel,” J.D. Butler said.