After slumping through the final months of the regular season and narrowly making the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the Oakland Athletics have added what they hope will be a solution to some of their offensive woes. The club reportedly agreed to terms with designated hitter Billy Butler on a three-year deal worth $30 million on Tuesday night. Butler had his $12.5 million club option for 2015 declined by the Kansas City Royals and did not receive a qualifying offer.
The 28-year old posted a .271/.323/.379 slash line with a 97 wRC+ in 2014. He hit just nine home runs, marking the first time he failed to post a double digit total since 2007. Butler has a career .808 OPS and 117 wRC+ so it’s fair to suggest that this past year was a down season. The slugger provides no value outside of his bat and should continue to be kept in a designated hitter role.
At first glance it is a little surprising to see the A’s commit considerable dollars to a DH, but it was even more surprising to see the club deal their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, for an ace starting pitcher, Jon Lester. Despite boasting a loaded rotation and strong bullpen Oakland struggled to win games after the trade deadline. Many pointed to the loss of Cespedes as the reason why the lineup fell apart but at the time the Cuban star had a sub-.300 on-base percentage — he wasn’t the issue. It was more of a collective slump by the bats. Constantly losing games 2-0 or 3-1 isn’t usually the pitching staff’s fault. Everyone in the lineup had to move up a spot and certain players became exposed.
Butler is a career 142 wRC+ against left-handed pitching compared to a 108 wRC+ against right-handed pitching but his salary suggests that he won’t find himself in a traditional platoon situation. Manager Bob Melvin has been known to get creative with his lineup so nothing is out of the question.
The slugger was thought to be a prime target of the Seattle Mariners this winter, not solely because he’s a designated hitter, but because of his ability to crush left-handed pitching. Butler would’ve fit well in the M’s lineup, likely between left-handed stars Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. The M’s do have cash to burn and were willing to give DH Corey Hart up to $13 million in 2014, but at this time it seems likely they found the third year to be prohibitive.
A salary in the $10 million range didn’t appear to be out of the question for Butler this winter but the three guaranteed years is a little surprising. He’s still young enough — he’ll turn 29 in April — that he could have taken a one-year deal to rebuild his value and sought a more lucrative multi-year deal next winter. But if the former first-round pick paid any attention to what transpired last offseason, those who get too greedy and wait for something better — we are looking at you Kendrys Morales — don’t always find it. Given the scarcity of right-handed power on the market there probably would’ve been another team willing to go three years at some point, but it was smart of Butler to take the now while it was on the table.
One thing we’ve learned during the early stages of free agency this year is the team that comes out aggressive will probably get their man. Obviously Victor Martinez wanted to stay with the Detroit Tigers, but had the club waited longer to offer four years and $68 million it’s possible he would’ve taken a larger deal elsewhere. And even likely had a club gotten desperate after other plans fell through.
Russell Martin was far and away the best free agent catcher available, but a five-year deal worth north of $70 million seemed a little high when it was suggested a couple weeks ago. It’s been reported that the Chicago Cubs, his expected landing spot, weren’t willing to go that high in their contract negotiations. The Toronto Blue Jays, however, made it clear he was their guy and got a five-year, $82 million deal completed. Did they have to overpay a little for Martin? Sure. Factor in the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar and a club policy against no-trade clauses and they probably had to buff up the total dollar amount.
Three years for Billy Butler sounds aggressive and the Athletics probably had the advantage of being the first team willing to go that extra year. Trying to predict free agency and what factors will affect the market each year is nearly impossible. Most higher end free agents prefer to take their time and touring a particular city or cities during that process is not uncommon — a la Pablo Sandoval in Boston this week.
What we have seen in the past though, and are starting to see again this year, is that pushing the extra couple chips into the pile will usually get a deal done early.
And if you were wondering what the Mariners were up to tonight, Bob Dutton has you covered.