Is Billy Butler Worth a Top Prospect?


Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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.