Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Is Billy Butler Worth a Top Prospect?

On the first day of the Winter Meetings, rumors have been circulating about the Mariners and Royals discussing a trade involving Billy Butler. As badly as the Mariners need established hitters, consider me highly skeptical about the chances of this being a fair deal. Based on advanced plate discipline, contact, and power numbers using a skills comparison system, the following are the most similar right-handed hitters to Billy Butler over the past three years:

A nice group of players, to be sure, but would you surrender a top prospect for any of them? Almost certainly not, and if the Mariners decide to make a trade for Butler, one of the top 5 prospects in the system are most likely going to be in the deal. Add to the fact that Butler has no additional value apart from his bat and you could argue that some of the above players are superior to Butler. Freese, Hardy, Ruiz, Molina, Peralta, Ramirez and Rolen provide similar offense but also can play the field.

It’s been said by many people this off-season, but the Mariners are well-stocked with DH/1B types – Smoak, Montero, Jaso, and Carp. It might be worth taking a flyer on a cheap option like Travis Hafner or Lance Berkman. Carlos Lee is on the above list as a comparable to Butler and he’d probably even agree to a minor league deal. But it just doesn’t make sense to sacrifice a top prospect for a player as one-dimensional as Butler.

Sure, some fans might think of Butler as being this generation’s Edgar Martinez. Butler is only 26 after all and Edgar only became a full-time player at 27. However, Butler hasn’t reached Edgar’s level of offensive dominance yet and there’s no guarantee he ever will. That being said, they do have some intriguing similarities. Here’s a comparison just for fun:

If I’m Jack Zduriencik and co., I’m looking for a player with defensive value like Alex Gordon or Will Myers. They have much more value going forward than Butler does and would be much more worthy of one of the “big three” pitching prospects. Either of those players could solidify rightfield in Safeco for years to come.

According to FanGraphs, Butler has only been worth more than 3 WAR in a season once and that was in 2012 at 3.2. Butler’s offensive production just doesn’t outweigh his shortcomings defensively and on the basepaths. If the trade package was headlined by Brandon Maurer, then that’d be a different story. That’s just not likely to happen. Improving the offense is important, but the Mariners need to be protective of their elite prospects. Any one of their top five should only be moved in a trade that brings back a significant long-term piece. Butler just doesn’t fit that mold.



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  • JJ Allen Keller

    I think Butler is much better than any of the players you compared him to. He is just 26, and had a monster year. Half the guys you mentioned dont even start anymore.

    Freese and Molina are the only reasonable comps, and even they arent quite as good as Butler.

    I doubt we see any of those comps have an .880 OPS in their future. Butler had one at 26.

    The defense is a legitimate concern, but an .880 OPS bat is an .880 OPS bat.

    I am interested, where did you get the comparisons, cause I am having a hard time seeing similarities between Butler and .686 OPS Danny Valencia, or older guys like Scott Rolen and Carlos Lee.

    • Michael Engel

      I think it may be similar by WAR? Not sure on the measurement.

      My adoration of Billy Butler is well-documented on Kings of Kauffman. He finally cemented himself as an everyday player starting with the 2009 season and since, only 9 players in the big leagues have more extra base hits. His power is still developing and he’s able to take a walk and also doesn’t strike out very much. He’s a doubles machine and has more base hits than Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Andrew McCutchen, and Justin Upton, to name just a few.

      He’s hampered by a lack of any defensive value. No way to refute that, but in the context of his position, he’s one of the best DHs you’ll find. Maybe you like David Ortiz better – Butler has a .371 OBP since 2009, Ortiz .376. Their OPS is within 50 points in that span. And he’s just getting better. He’d sit in Seattle’s 3 or 4 spot in the order every day and be a force every day. Gordon and Myers are more well-rounded, it’s true, But Seattle DHs had a .597 OPS last year. Cleanup hitters had a .675 OPS. Butler’s slow but still ran circles around those numbers.

      He’s worth it.

      Your mileage may vary – I freely admit my bias. He’s this decade’s Edgar Martinez.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I believe the comparison was made on plate discipline numbers, contact rates, and power. So these players have similar K%, BB%, z-contact%, o-swing%, HR/FB, and ISO (just guessing), and that sounds like a more reasonable comparison.

      Since Butler’s OPS dwarfs some of his comparables in these stats, the difference almost has to be in BABIP. Butler is obviously a good hitter, and he hasn’t fluked his way to four consecutive seasons of a BABIP over .316. But he’s pretty much league average when it comes to comes to taking walks.

      I’m not sure I want to bet on a BABIP-driven DH with above-average (but not elite) right-handed power. Safeco’s marine air is still safeco’s marine air (if that’s truly the cause of right-handed power loss), then tack on the lack of any defensive ability and flexibility, and you have yourself a 2-3 WAR DH taking plate appearances away from Jaso and Montero.


  • JJ Allen Keller

    Be sure to tag your posts with: “Seattle Mariners”, “featured” and “popular”, as well as any players you talk about extensively.