Iâ€™d like to thank the Royals (and Buster Olney) for filling in the boring off-days before the start of the World Series with a juicy rumorâ€¦namely, Olneyâ€™s report that the Royals would be willing to trade Billy Butler.
Of course, at this point itâ€™s just â€œready to talk,â€ but I could see the Royals leaking this info as a bit of a trial balloon. Butler is a popular player, despite what some Facebook and Twitter users might tell you. Heâ€™s likely the most well-known Royal in Kansas City (I would hear arguments for Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer). Trading him would be a big move for the franchise, probably even more so than trading Wil Myers (letâ€™s be honest, how many casual fans knew anything about Myers?) or Zack Greinke (obviously well-known, but perhaps not as popular given his personality).
In the abstract, trading Butler could make sense, and I donâ€™t necessarily object. No player should be untouchable, except perhaps Salvador Perez, who plays a premium defensive position, plays it extremely well, is young, and signed to a very team-friendly contract.
Butler is good enough to bring back a useful piece. Or two, possibly. But thatâ€™s what makes trading him a bad idea in my book.
We all know Butler did not have his best season in 2013. In fact, by almost any measure (OPS+, WAR, wOBA, wRC+), it was his worst year since 2008. So for starters, the Royals would be selling low. Now, that wouldnâ€™t necessarily be â€œselling lowâ€ like it might be for some other players. Butler has enough of a track record that itâ€™s reasonable to assume heâ€™ll bounce back, even if heâ€™s never quite as good as he was in 2012. But still, he would have fetched more in a trade at this time last year.
Also, replacing Butlerâ€™s bat, even after a subpar season by his standards, wonâ€™t be easy. Even in a disappointing season, Butler was an above-average hitter who played in all 162 games this year. In fact, for all the grief he gets about being out of shape, Butler has been in the lineup practically every day since 2008, with the obvious caveat that he doesnâ€™t normally play defense, limiting his chances to get hurt. But there is still value in the fact that he can be counted on to provide 675 plate appearances of above-average to very-good offense. That disappointing season he just had? He still had the second-highest OPS on the team.
The Royals have no one waiting in the wings to replace Butlerâ€™s hitting. And they were already a bad offensive team in 2013. Trading Butler does not help that, and since heâ€™s only due $8 million in 2014, it doesnâ€™t even free up that much cash to get the help they need. And on that note, if Butler has another â€œdisappointingâ€ season in 2014, the Royals merely need to exercise their $1 million buyout and heâ€™s a free agent. But at $8 million, for his normal level of production, heâ€™s actually worth every pennyâ€”Fangraphs pegs his 2013 value at $7.1 million, so itâ€™s not like heâ€™s a super drain on their resources.
If this had come up two years ago, it would have been a better idea. But with all the Royalsâ€™ eggs in the 2014 basket, they should be looking to add pieces to supplement Butlerâ€™s bat. Another good hitter to go with Butler, Hosmer, Perez, and Gordon, and the Royals might just have enough offense to get over the hump in 2014.
And all of this ignores that, frankly, I donâ€™t trust the Royals to get enough in return. Dayton Moore has made some very good trades, but mostly theyâ€™ve involved disappointing players (think Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie). When heâ€™s dealt valuable pieces (such as Myers and Greinke), heâ€™s excelled at getting four quarters for a dollar bill. When he traded Greinke, who like Butler was two years removed from a career season but coming off a somewhat disappointing season, he got an oft-injured outfielder, a light-hitting shortstop, a possible mid-rotation starter, and an easily-replaceable reliever. And I liked that trade. The Myers trade might have made the Royals better for 2013, but almost certainly made them worse once James Shields is gone.
Given all that, I think the idea of trading Butler, without knowing what the return might be, is a bad idea. My hope is that the Royals will realize that before they make a mistake.