UPDATE: The Oakland A’s on Wednesday morning officially announced that they had signed Billy Butler.
A few hours after he became a free agent for the first time in his career, Billy Butler prophesied the events of Tuesday night. He had spent a decade with the Royals and saw the franchise rise from a doormat to a World Series contender. He wanted to spend the rest of his career in Kansas City.
“Hopefully,” he said, “another team doesn’t come in and blow me out of the water with an offer.”
Even coming off the worst offensive season of his career, Butler still reaped the rewards of the open market. He was reportedly close to a three-year, $30 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, one of many clubs starved for right-handed hitting.
The Athletics did not confirm the agreement on Tuesday night. A text message sent to Butler went unreturned. ESPN reported the deal was in place. The initial report came from a website called MLB Daily Rumors.
The Royals met with Butler’s agents last week at the MLB general managers’ meetings in Phoenix. All week, rumors flew about Butler receiving three-year offers. The consensus from Royals officials was they would not stretch past a two-year deal for Butler. They harbored concerns about his performance in 2014 and worried he was in the midst of a steep decline.
His statistics have plummeted in recent years. His on-base plus slugging percentage fell from a career-best .882 in 2012 to .787 in 2013 to career-worst .702 last season. Butler will attempt to resurrect his production at O.co Coliseum, one of the few ballparks as uncharitable to hitters as Kauffman Stadium.
Thus ends the Royals career of one of the most productive hitters in franchise history. The Royals remain in the market for a designated hitter. They have engaged in discussions with free agents Torii Hunter and Michael Morse, according to people familiar with the situation. They have pondered trading for players, such as Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard and Atlanta catcher/outfielder hybrid Evan Gattis.
Over the weekend, team officials flew to the Dominican Republic and held workouts for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. The team has emerged as a surprise suitor for Tomas, who could command a deal worth more than Rusney Castillo’s $72.5 million pact with Boston.
No matter who the Royals find as their designated hitter for 2015, he will not possess the place in franchise lore that Butler did. As the regular season wound to a close, Butler appeared bound for another club. He rode the bench for the first two weeks in September. Manager Ned Yost dumped Butler from his usual spot in the middle of the order because of a lack of production.
Yet Butler re-emerged as a useful contributor in the final weeks of the season. He provided a few clutch hits during the team’s lengthy October run. Team officials sounded more optimistic about a reunion with Butler, who the team drafted with the 17th pick in the 2004 draft. After the Royals declined Butler’s $12.5 million team option for 2015, general manager Dayton Moore told Butler he hoped they could come to an agreement.
The finances just never matched up. Butler received an $8 million salary in 2014. The Royals were willing to sign him at a similar rate for 2015, and perhaps at a discount on a two-year deal, according to people familiar with their thought process. But they never intended to offer a three-year contract.
Oakland, apparently, was willing to take that risk. They will inherit a man with a firm place in the Kansas City record books. Butler ranks eighth in franchise history with 1,166 games played as a Royal. He ranks seventh with 1,273 hits, sixth with 276 doubles and sixth with 628 RBIs.
Even with Butler out of the picture, the Royals continue to focus on finding a starting pitcher to replace James Shields. They have spoken with the agents for pitchers Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Jason Hammel, according to people familiar with the situation. They have also had preliminary discussions with the agents for Jon Lester, but are still considered a longshot to win the bidding for a player worth a nine-figure contract.