What’s this? The Royals are willing to deal designated hitter Billy Butler? The former All-Star, 2012 Silver Slugger Award winner and their player of the year in three of the four previous seasons?
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, one of the best national baseball reporters in the business, sent that jolt through the Royals’ community early Tuesday afternoon
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“Royals ready to talk about Billy Butler deal for teams that would take on DH owed $8 million in ’14, $12m in 2015.”
Well, yes, but slow down.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore previously made it clear that he’s willing to trade anyone for the right price.
“You’ve got to look at all of your options,” he said. “We’ve got to be open-minded to everything.”
That, presumably, includes Butler, who slumped this season to 15 home runs and a .289 average (down from 29 and .313) but still managed to lead the club with 82 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage.
“It was tough for me this year to get pitches to hit,” Butler said. “I got pitched tougher than I did in years past. If I got ahead in the count, they were being real careful. I wasn’t getting that 3-1 cookie over the plate.
“It was tougher all the way around. I’ll go home, relax and get ready for another season. I’ll be ready to go. I’ll be ready.”
That’s a diplomatic way of Butler suggesting he didn’t have a lot of protection in the lineup. But put an impact bat behind Butler in the lineup and, perhaps, everything changes.
It happens. Eric Hosmer’s surge over the final four months came with him positioned, almost exclusively, immediately in front of Butler in the lineup.
There was no Butler hitting behind Butler. There was, instead, a lot of Hosmer (while mired in his early slump), Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain before the Royals settled on Salvy Perez in the closing weeks.
Moore and manager Ned Yost are on record as wanting to add a proven impact bat to a lineup that finished 11th among the 15 American League clubs in runs scored.
Understand this: Trade Butler or keep him, there is nobody in the farm system who seems likely to provide the sort of boost the Royals are seeking for the upcoming season.
By the start of 2015 — maybe. (Keep an eye on right fielder Jorge Bonifacio, who will likely start next season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.) But nobody tracks to be ready by the start of next season.
That’s a key factor.
The Royals, after their 86-76 breakthrough, expect to make a strong push next year to reach postseason for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series. They want (and need) immediate help.
Take away Butler’s bat and, unless the Royals get a bankable hitter in return, they would need to add two bats over the winter months to get the extra pop and punch they desire.
Or to paraphrase something Moore said repeatedly in the past: If the Royals trade Billy Butler, they’ll be looking to acquire someone like Billy Butler to replace his production.
Now … how many guys out there, who are available, offer Butler’s likely baseline production (his 2013 numbers) and his upside potential (his 2012 numbers) at a price that fits into the Royals’ payroll structure?
Olney’s tweet cited Butler’s salary — and that’s always a factor for the Royals (and, really, most clubs). But look at baseball’s economics. Qualifying offers this winter for free agents will be $14.1 million.
That suggests the Royals will be fortunate next season if they can add someone/anyone who produces Butler’s “disappointing” 2013 numbers for just $8 million.
Bottom line? It’s possible, of course, that some club overwhelms the Royals with an offer for Butler. Short of that...well, weigh everything (as Dayton Moore will do). You decide how likely Butler is to be traded.