Let me begin this post with a few statements.
- Kansas City Royals DH/1B Billy Butler is reportedly on the trading block, maybe.
- The Oakland Athletics have been in no way connected to Butler as a trade target.
- It's December, and a shady guy in an alley just introduced me to my first couple hits of sweet, sweet, hot stove transaction heroin on Monday and Tuesday, and now I want more.
Still with me? That's why we're talking about fake trades. Alex needs his fix. Here is why we're talking about Billy Butler specifically:
Oakland A's team home runs, 2011: 114 (24th in MLB)
Oakland A's team home runs, 2012: 195 (7th)
Oakland A's team home runs, 2013: 186 (3rd)
The A's got good when they started hitting, and their ability to hit lots of home runs has been a critical part of their offensive strategy. It's not the only way to score runs and win games, but it's a great plan and it's worked well for Oakland. So, this next list is a bit troubling to me.
Players likely to hit at least 20 home runs in 2014:
- Brandon Moss
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Josh Donaldson
Josh Reddick might exceed 20 if he bounces back, but I spent all of last year predicting his resurgence and was left wanting. I'm still optimistic about him, but I'm not longer pinning my hopes on his power returning until it actually happens. Jed Lowrie hit 15 last year, and Coco Crisp unexpectedly muscled up, but neither player is known for his pop and both are constant injury concerns. Furthermore, the team has lost Seth Smith, who is usually good for a home run total in the mid-teens, and they have shipped out youngster Michael Choice, who was supposed to provide extra power to the roster. In their places, the team will have Craig Gentry, who can't even hit a homer in slow-pitch softball; John Jaso, who is a great hitter due to his plate discipline rather than his muscle; and Daric Barton, who once saw someone hit a homer but can't actually do it himself (or, if not Barton, then Nate Freiman, who inexplicably hit only singles last season).
So, we're talking about six guys who are legitimately good bets to reach even double-digits in dingers: Moss, Cespedes, Donaldson, Reddick, Lowrie, and Coco. Throw in the catching platoon of Norris/Vogt and make it seven positions. However, some of those positions will only barely reach double-digits, and only Moss and Cespedes seem like even decent bets to reach 30. Best-case scenario, this group of position players hits 150 home runs next season. And if someone gets hurt, which they will, there's not really a power-hitting prospect ready to step in to replace him. It'll be a lot of Gentry, Michael Taylor, and Shane Peterson.
Home runs aren't the be-all end-all of offense. The A's still have at least average hitters at every position. But Billy Beane is never done looking for ways to improve the team, and it would be nice to add just a little more thump into the equation to make up for the losses of Smith and Choice. Furthermore, this is what the current lineup would probably look like against a left-handed pitcher:
C - Norris
1B - Barton?
2B - Punto
SS - Lowrie
3B - Donaldson
LF - Cespedes
CF - Gentry?
RF - Reddick
DH - Coco?
Here's another consideration: Coco has received 574 plate appearances against southpaws since joining the team in 2011, and he's been pretty bad. I'm not going to calculate the exact OPS, but a back-of-the-napkin estimate is somewhere around 650. It might be time for Coco to become a platoon starter in center, with the caveat that he would be available off the bench as a valuable pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. We on Athletics Nation are always looking for ways to reduce his playing time to keep him healthy, so how about finding a right-handed bat to DH against lefties? Imagine that lineup with Butler instead of either Barton or Crisp. Looks a whole lot better, even if it involves Butler playing defense.
Granted, Billy Butler is not exactly a power hitter. He's hit 99 homers combined over the last five full seasons, so he's more in the mold of Josh Donaldson -- lots of contact and lots of doubles, some of which are hit hard enough to leave the yard. But adding another 20-homer hitter to the lineup would make me feel a lot better about the offense.
Butler's career platoon splits include a 921 OPS against LHP and 788 mark against RHP, so he's a lefty-masher who can still hold his own against right-handers. He doesn't really have a defensive position, so he'd probably have to DH most of the time while faking it at first base when necessary (for the anti-Barton crowd, Butler would likely take Barton's roster spot).
What would it take to get Butler? The Royals really want Carlos Beltran, and if they get him then Butler won't fit into their lineup or their payroll. He's a free agent after the season, so he should be cheap as a one-year rental despite his skill and local popularity. He has an $8 million salary in 2014, which could be offset by trading Brett Anderson and/or Alberto Callaspo for prospects.
A couple of potential deals:
Callaspo for Butler
Callaspo fills the Royals' last lineup hole, which is at second base. However, he is probably miscast as an everyday second baseman and his $5 million salary means that the Royals don't get the financial relief they are looking for, which defeats the whole purpose of dealing Butler.
Jerry Blevins and Josh Lindblom for Butler
How about this? Blevins steps in to replace the recently-traded Will Smith, giving KC a second lefty in the pen after Tim Collins. Lindblom gives them a bit more starting pitching depth, as their current depth chart shows the 4th starter to be Danny Duffy (newly-recovered from Tommy John surgery) and the 5th starter to be Wade Davis (5.32 ERA in 2013). Lindblom isn't a star, but he is intriguing and they could use some alternate options behind the current five. The two players aren't particularly expensive -- less than $2 million combined -- so KC would add some value without taking on too much money. That's all you can hope for in a salary dump. Throw in a decent minor-leaguer if you think I'm low-balling the Royals.
On the A's side of things, dealing Blevins clears up some space in the bullpen for Fernando Abad, who is talented, left-handed, cheaper, under team control through 2017, and out of options.
I'm not necessarily advocating one way or another about acquiring Butler. I think he's an interesting player, and I can see reasons why he would fit really well here as well as reasons why he wouldn't fit at all. He's a fantastic hitter with some pop who can mash lefties! But he's also a defensive liability with no positional versatility, who would clog up the DH spot. He's also only available if the Royals sign Beltran.
What do you think? Would Butler look good in green and gold? Or should Beane focus his energy elsewhere? Have I insultingly low-balled the Royals with a package based on Blevins/Lindblom, or is that fair for a one-year rental with a limited skill set? Let's argue in the comments!