Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Royals are Looking to Move Billy Butler

So make that three times that the Royals have been rumored to be considering trading Billy Butler in favor of signing a free agent to serve as the 2014 designated hitter. First, we heard the Carlos Beltran rumors, then we heard about Kansas City's interest in Mark Trumbo. So we have to ask, why does is seem as though the Royals are so motivated to move Billy Butler?

  1. Let's start with the most obvious reason; the Royals believe that these alternatives are upgrades. If the Royals truly believe that Beltran, Trumbo, Cruz, etc. are better offensively than Butler, than it would make sense to sign one and then deal Butler for another useful (for example, Nick Franklin of Seattle). The issue here becomes whether or not the aforementioned hitters are actually better offensively than Bill the Thrill.
  2. Option number 2 could be that the Royals believe Butler has started downward on his career projection. Billy Butler is coming off his worst offensive season since his rookie campaign when he posted a .320 wOBA and a 90 wRC+. Perhaps the Royals brass read this article and believe that Butler's weight could lead to an early decline, thus they want to stay ahead of the curve by dealing him while he still has value. This leads me to my next point...
  3. Maybe the Royals are frustrated by Butler's weight issues. After coming into camp in 2012 in excellent shape (by Billy Butler standards), Butler had a career year hitting .313/.373/.510. The Royals then spent the off-season gearing up for a playoff run and I'm sure were disappointed by the shape that Billy came to camp in for 2013. Butler obviously was carrying a few more pounds in 2013 than he was in 2012, and you have to wonder if his poor season was the result.
  4. Finally and probably the largest factor in all of this is that while Butler's $8.5 million salary in 2014 seems very fair, the Royals might feel more conflicted about a $12.5 million option for 2015. As a result, they might be fearful that this off-season and the trading deadline will be their last opportunities to flip Butler. Obviously, the Royals expect to be in the race at the deadline, so they could just being proactive. By flipping Butler now and signing a free agent to DH, they could get a return for Butler, while also continuing to get DH production without having to either trade Butler in July or see him walk at the end of the season if his option is declined.
The Rays are a team that has done an excellent job of trading assets to make their window to win sustainable. They've shown that the opportune time to trade a player is when they have two years of control remaining. For Butler that point is now. 

Ultimately, whether or not Billy Butler should be traded hinges on your view of his 2013 season. If you believe it was the first drop off in a sharp aging curve for players his size, then it makes sense to stay ahead of the game and move him for a return while you have the chance. If you believe that 2013 was simply a down year and that he will rebound in 2014, then he is a bargain and a $12.5 million option in 2015 is a no brainer.

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