Much of the speculation surrounding the Mariners in the recent weeks has revolved around free agent options, particularly outfielders and starting pitchers. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s name has been thrown around on multiple occasions and Tim Lincecum was a hot topic before he decided to re-up with the Giants.
But I want to turn your attention to the trade market, where one of my personal favorite players has reportedly become available. Buster Olney recently tweeted that the Royals will listen to offers on DH Billy Butler, aka Country Breakfast.
Royals ready to talk about Billy Butler deal for teams that would take on DH owed $8 million in '14, $12m in 2015.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 22, 2013
Butler was also linked to the M’s last year, but obviously nothing came to fruition. And while this occurrence doesn’t guarantee he is moved, or even being shopped, it does suggest it may be easier to acquire him that it has been in the past.
After having his best year in 2012 (.313/.373/.510 with 29 home runs), Butler had a down season in 2013, but was still a very productive hitter for the surprisingly good Royals. He finished at .289/.374/.412, with just 15 home runs.
As you can see, the on-base ability stayed pretty much the same, so the drop came in the power department, with a 14 homer discrepancy between his ’12 and ’13 campaigns. That can be fairly concerning for some who expect power out of the DH and 1st base position, and want to see a lot of dingers from those spots.
However, Butler really isn’t a home run hitter. He is more of an on-base and gap power guy, who has enough strength and loft to also lose 20 or so a year. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter where your offensive production comes from, as long as it is there. I don’t care if you lead the league in OBP and are at the bottom in homers, or vice versa, as long as runs are being scored.
And even so, I don’t believe last year is what you can expect from Butler going forward. It was simply a down year in what has otherwise been a very impressive career. And for his career, Butler owns an .823 OPS and .357 wOBA, much higher than his .787 and .345 of 2013.
I would fully expect a return to form next year, maybe somewhere between 2012 and 2013, which if we averaged it all out, would be a .361 wOBA. That would make him far and away the best hitter on the Mariners. There is the problem of defense, or lack thereof. Butler is pretty much a DH only, so even when he dominates at the plate, he is only a 2.5 to 3-ish win player by fWAR’s standards (for reference, he was a 1.4 WAR player last year).
It might seem like his down year would lower his price some, and make this the ideal time to make a run at him. Normally, I would agree. But the Royals don’t need to move Butler at all. They are on the cusp on contention, and Butler is a bounce-back candidate for next year. What that means is that the asking price will likely still be very high. If Kansas City has a motive to trade him, it is one of opportunism. To try to get as much as they for him now, just in case he does not regain his previous form.
That being said, I have attempted to estimate his cost, and it isn’t easy to do. The Royals will want one amount, which is different from what his traditional numbers suggest, which is different still from what his advanced stats suggest.
It would seem that the Royals would want starting pitching, and likely some infield help along with it. I would not hesitate to offer up James Paxton and Nick Franklin for Butler, but that may not be enough. Paxton was impressive in the bigs (1.50 ERA, 3.26 FIP and 0.5 WAR in 4 starts) but his Triple-A numbers aren’t all that impressive, and his walk rates are still too high.
Franklin was the exact opposite, owning dominant numbers with Tacoma, and struggling mightily in the bigs (90 wRC+). He started off hot, but faltered as time when on. His wRC+ in the first half was 119, and just 69 in the second half. The upside is still there, but his performance was not as encouraging as one might hope for.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if the price gets too high), Butler probably won’t moved. They may be willing to listen, but there is a large gap between listening and shopping. It is all up in the air right now, but I wouldn’t bank of a Butler trade. I would certainly welcome it though.