It was, as one baseball executive put it, a classic baseball deal.
The Royals on Saturday acquired outfielder Billy Burns from the Oakland A’s in exchange for outfielder Brett Eibner. In consummating a trade just days before the non-waiver deadline, the Royals acquired a cost-controllable center fielder with major-league experience in exchange for a 27-year-old corner outfielder who made his big-league debut this season.
Burns, 26, is a career .273 hitter in 211 games over three seasons for Oakland. He batted a career-high .294 with a .334 on-base percentage in 2015 before regressing this season. He hit just .234 with a .270 on-base percentage in 73 games before being demoted to Class AAA Nashville on July 15. Burns has 43 career stolen bases in 55 attempts and projects as an above-average center fielder. He will report to Class AAA Omaha.
In exchange for Burns, the Royals parted ways with Eibner, 27, who was batting .231 with a .270 on-base percentage and three homers in 26 games this season. A former second-round pick, Eibner made his major-league debut on May 27 and was filling in for an injured Lorenzo Cain before being optioned back to Omaha Friday to make room for Cain on the 25-man roster.
The Royals viewed the trade as an opportunity to acquire a switch-hitting center fielder with speed, offering depth at an outfield position where they are somewhat thin. With a glut of corner outfield options — including top prospect Jorge Bonifacio at Class AAA Omaha — Eibner became expendable. Royals manager Ned Yost said club officials have been intrigued by Burns’ skillset for the last few seasons.
“He fits our profile,” Yost said.
He also comes with an endorsement from former Royal Ben Zobrist, who was acquired from Oakland last season before the trade deadline. According to Yost, Zobrist offered a strong recommendation to general manager Dayton Moore.
“He asked Zoby, ‘What about Billy Burns?’ ” Yost said. “And Zoby is like, ‘If you ever get a chance to get that guy, get that guy.’ ”
The move could also offer flexibility this offseason. Center fielder Jarrod Dyson will turn 32 years old in August and is entering his final season of salary arbitration, meaning Burns could offer a cheaper alternative as a fourth outfielder. The Royals are also set to have Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Paulo Orlando under contract in 2017, which could have limited Eibner’s playing time.
Eibner was drafted out of Arkansas in the second round of the 2010 draft. He endured an injury-plagued minor-league career before turning a corner over the last two-plus seasons. He recorded a walk-off single in just his second major-league game on May 28 and recorded six hits in his first four career games. But he was batting just .179 (7 for 39) during the month of July.