Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
With a contract that has a 1-year $12.5 million team option remaining, and a buyout of only $1 million, it’s looking more and more like 2014 will be Billy Butler‘s last as a Kansas City Royal.
It’s been a weird six months for Butler. He has been the player that has been the face of the Royals for the past few years. However, this season, he has seen himself struggle like never before—both on the field and in the clubhouse. We’re left wondering if Dayton Moore’s attempts to trade Butler last winter has played a part in his disappointing first six weeks of the year.
Butler is now hitting .242 with one home run and only14 RBIs. He’s whiffing a lot more than we’ve ever seen, going down on strikes in a career worst 20.6% of his plate appearances thus far. He’s also walking less. Butler is hitting way too many ground balls (a career-high 57.1% vs. his career average of 48.4%) and not enough line drives (21.9%). Worst of all, it all seems to be getting to him.
Butler is supposed to be a leader now. He’s supposed to act like the veteran that he is, being the longest tenured Royal on the team. Instead, he’s complaining. More importantly, he’s complaining publicly.
A week ago, it looked as if Butler was on the verge of snapping out of his funk. In the nine games prior to the road trip through San Diego and Seattle, Butler had hit .343/.368/.514, including his one and only home run of 2014. But because of interleague play, Ned Yost had to make a decision about what to do with Butler. He chose to make Butler a pinch hitter.
Perhaps Yost could have handled it better, but we’ve been through this nearly every year when we get to interleague games in National League ballparks. Butler always voices his displeasure with the fact that he sees little playing time in such games on the road. He has all the right in the world to express his issues with this decision to Yost, but to air them in this interview in The Kansas City Star, is in bad taste.
Butler was right, when the alternative was Mike Jacobs or Kila Ka’aihue. But with Eric Hosmer, a Gold Glove first baseman who now leads the league in doubles, the smart choice is to sit Butler and play Hosmer. However rare it might be, Yost appears to have made the right decision here.
Hosmer went 7-for-15 with seven RBIs in the San Diego series, justifying Yost’s decision to play the better defensive player due to the fact that this team struggles greatly to score.
Butler went just 5-20 on the road trip, with one extra base hit. In Seattle, his frustration led to an on field verbal dispute with first base coach Rusty Kuntz. Butler later admitted that he was in the wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t been the same player he was in 2013—and he wasn’t anywhere close to the same player in 2013 he was in 2012.
We have to start believing that he is on the downward slope of his career. For the sake of argument let’s say the current $90 million payroll increases to $95 million in 2015. Dayton Moore’s job after this season will be to decide if he wants to spend more than 13% of his available salary on a player that offers no defensive value, and declining offensive value.
Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
So far, Butler is making that decision an easy one.
In today’s game, teams not named the Boston Red Sox shouldn’t have a highly paid, DH-only player.
It’s just not as common as it once was. The Red Sox have David Ortiz and the Royals have Butler. Those two are really the only two full-time designated hitters in baseball that very rarely, if at all see time in the field.
Roster flexibility is exactly what Dayton Moore was trying to create in the off season when he shopped Butler around. There’s a reason there were no takers.
Butler has been the Royals cleanup hitter for the vast majority of 2014. The .562 OPS the Royals have received from their No. 4 lineup spot ranks 14th in the American League, ahead of only the Houston Astros.
When Butler is hitting, he’s easy to like. We’ve learned to live with his unathletic appearance and the apparent opposition he has to exercise. I’d argue that most of us have that in common with Butler. We’ve even grown to accept the occasional aloofness, and frequent base running gaffes. But when he’s not providing much offensively, what is the advantage of him returning in 2015?
The answer is nothing.
He’s only had 132 at bats, so there is still plenty of time for Butler to prove he deserves that $12.5 option and if he does shake out of this downward spiral. Such a turnaround would likely be the key to unlocking the offensive success the Royals have been searching for. But we’re nearly a month and a half in, and Yost has started to lose faith, as have the fans. Dayton Moore must be too.