When the news coming out of 7000 Coliseum Way is all waiver claims this and minor leagues signings that, staff departure these and staff promotion those, the Hot Stove turns into a bit of a lukewarm teapot. But fear not Athletics Nation, we're happy to talk about the slightest of rumors and innuendo just to get us all in a room to talk about baseball.
Trade rumors from non-mainstream figures citing "sources" have been all the rage ever since MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo broke the Doug Fister trade as a high school senior during the December 2013 Winter Meetings. If they're going to stake their reputation on this, well best of luck to them.
So okay, let's talk about Billy Butler.
Butler became a free agent when the Kansas City Royals declined their $12.5 million club option, paying a $1 million buyout instead. Shaun Newkirk of Royals Review offered a guess after noting that Butler had the worst walk year performance of any designated hitter free agent of the last three years:
As for the authors guess, and it truly is a guess, for Butler's 2015 contract, I would see something in the $7-10M range on a one year deal with a mutual option or perhaps as the colloquial term goes, a "pillow contract." There's likely a team out their [sic] willing to sign Butler to a 2-3 year deal perhaps at 2/$16M or 3/$24M. Such a team would be betting on Butler returning to his '12/13 form, an entirely imaginable scenario (more so the 2013 Butler than 2012).
Butler had been rumored to have turned down a three-year, $30 million deal from the Baltimore Orioles during last week's General Manager Meetings in Phoenix, but that rumor was dispelled by reporting from MASN's Roch Kubatko. ("Showalter's award, negotiations, and more")
Butler's 2014 performance was an alarming drop-off from his 2012 All-Star campaign and even the 2013 where he still showed some semblance of plate discipline. According to Baseball Info Solutions data at Fangraphs, he swung at a career-high 34.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone in 2014, compared to the MLB average of 31.3%, which ranked him 41st among the 146 qualified batters in baseball.
The number of first-pitch strikes thrown to him was also up remarkably, at 62.4%, compared to the previous high of 58.6% in 2008, and above the 2014 league average of 60.6%.
Billy Butler could fit into the Oakland scheme, as an everyday designated hitter or occasional first baseman, but I think it would mean the idea of Derek Norris as someone that will be batting against right-handed pitching will be over. Here are a few possible configurations against right-handed pitching, assuming John Jaso becomes a minimally competent first baseman:
|Butler the DH||Butler the 1B|
|C||John Jaso/Stephen Vogt||Stephen Vogt|
|1B||Stephen Vogt/John Jaso||Billy Butler|
|2B||Mystery IF||Mystery IF|
|SS||Mystery IF||Mystery IF|
|3B||Josh Donaldson||Josh Donaldson|
|LF||Brandon Moss||Brandon Moss|
|CF||Sam Fuld/Coco Crisp||Sam Fuld/Coco Crisp|
|RF||Josh Reddick||Josh Reddick|
|DH||Billy Butler||John Jaso|
In either lineup, for Norris to play in the game, Stephen Vogt would not be playing in the game. It would be criminal for the A's to play a game against a right-handed pitcher with John Jaso and his career .272/.368/.424 line against right-handed pitching sitting on the bench. Norris has only recently been hitting well against right-handed pitching at the MLB-level, with a .244/.340/.359 performance over 234 plate appearances, good for a 106 wRC+, but even that was behind Vogt at 119 and Jaso at 128, but ahead of Butler at 84.
If Butler does not regain his stroke against right-handed pitching, however, Derek Norris might be in the conversation to see if he can regain what he had in the first half of 2014.
|Billy Butler, compared to A's hitters wRC+ vs. RHP, career unless noted|
|Name||G||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||wRC+ vs. RHP||
Against left-handed pitching, however, Billy Butler is a big asset for a team that in 2014 had at any one time only five batters that finished with a wRC+ vs. LHP of over 100, and two of them were Kyle Blanks and Nate Freiman. Butler still performed well against left-handed pitching in 2014, with a wRC+ of 137, and a career wRC+ of 142 against southpaws.
|Billy Butler, compared to A's hitters wRC+ vs. LHP, career unless noted|
For the three outfield spots, first base, and designated hitter, the A's without Billy Butler have to start Kyle Blanks, Brandon Moss, and three players out of Sam Fuld, Coco Crisp, Craig Gentry, and Sam Fuld, of which only Gentry has a career wRC+ eclipsing 100 against left-handers. Butler makes a decision to rest the injury-prone Coco Crisp far easier.
|C||Derek Norris||Derek Norris|
|1B||Kyle Blanks/Brandon Moss||Kyle Blanks/Brandon Moss|
|2B||Mystery IF||Mystery IF|
|SS||Tyler Ladendorf||Tyler Ladendorf|
|3B||Josh Donaldson||Josh Donaldson|
|LF||Brandon Moss/Sam Fuld||Brandon Moss/Sam Fuld|
|CF||Craig Gentry/Coco Crisp/Sam Fuld||Craig Gentry/Coco Crisp/Sam Fuld|
|RF||Sam Fuld/Josh Reddick||Sam Fuld/Josh Reddick|
The case for a regular DH
There's something to be said for having a regular DH. For the last few years, Bob Melvin has used the designated hitter position as the "half-day off" position, with no particular player claiming the role. When nobody needed a rest, the DH position was used for the player the A's least wanted to see in the field. Hence, Alberto Callaspo started 34 games at DH, primarily against left-handed pitching, and John Jaso started 32 games at DH against right-handed pitching.
In The Book, Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin describe a "designated hitter penalty" that some players have where players do not hit as well as they would if they were playing in the field. They are careful to note that the effect "does vary significantly from player to player." It certainly looked like John Jaso had a severe DH penalty in 2014, going .208/.293/.296 as a DH compared to .2998/.362/.488 as a catcher. Maybe Butler, who played a career-high 37 games in the field last season, is one of those players that just knows how to DH.
Sure the A's value defensive versatility, but the A's really don't have that many good bats against left-handed pitching. If anything, keeping the good defenders on the bench instead of trapped by the DH rule only adds to the options Bob Melvin has for setting the defensive lineup. It would be nice to take advantage of playing in the American League, for once.
Can it work for the 25-man roster? The problem of course is that the A's are going to be make some tough decisions if they sign Billy Butler. Assuming 13 position player spots, there would be
- John Jaso
- Derek Norris
- Stephen Vogt
- Kyle Blanks/Nate Freiman
- Josh Donaldson
- Tyler Ladendorf/mystery infielder
- Brandon Moss
- Andy Parrino/mystery infielder
- Nick Punto
- Eric Sogard/mystery infielder
- Coco Crisp
- Sam Fuld
- Craig Gentry
- Josh Reddick
I could see getting rid of one of Andy Parrino (waived), Eric Sogard (optioned), or Tyler Ladendorf (optioned), but not the two needed to fit Billy Butler onto the 25-man roster. A Billy Butler signing signals further moves on the horizon to clear roster space before Opening Day. You could omit Kyle Blanks/Nate Freiman, but that's a bat that is sorely needed against left-handed pitching.
I would not have a problem with signing Billy Butler if it meant the A's could still upgrade the middle infield and add depth to the starting rotation after the departures of Jon Lester and Jason Hammel. Such a move means Derek Norris probably does not play often against right-handed pitchers or will split time as the designated hitter with Billy Butler, depending on whether Butler returns to better form. The lineup versus left-handed pitching would be vastly improved.
If the payroll works for other priorities, I think Billy Butler can do a lot for the A's in 2015. It's just a question of who falls off the roster as a result.