With Cashman et al on the lookout for a reasonable option to fill the vacant designated hitter role, it was only a matter of time before tenuous connections were forged between the Yankees and … well … any player that may (or may not) be available. On Sunday, SB Nation Kansas City reported that a rumor was circulating that “has the Kansas City Royals dealing Billy Butler to the Yankees in some deal that includes young pitcher Phil Hughes of the Yankees.” The sole source appears to be from the user-operated Gather, which does not draw from any discernible media outlet or ‘insider’ or anything else of the sort. In short, what we have here is likely pure conjecture, beyond the fact that Butler’s name has popped up every now and again as a trade candidate should the Royals swing a deal for a pitcher. In the aftermath of this past weekend’s flurry of activity, that’s enough for me to speculate a bit.
Over the past three years, Billy Butler has slashed .303/.370/.474, averaging about 47 2B, 18 HR, and 64 BB per season. His 125 wRC+ over that time ranks 38th (of 225) among qualified sluggers, within the company of David Ortiz, Nick Swisher, Victor Martinez, Andre Ethier, and Josh Willingham. As is the case with said sluggers, however, Butler’s value lies almost entirely in his bat, as his positional flexibility comes down to designated hitter and a subpar first base. Given the utilization of Jorge Posada in 2011, the previously anticipated use of Jesus Montero, and the apparent interest in Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena, that does not seem to be an issue.
One of the obvious concerns, to many, is the fact that Butler is a right-handed hitter. In addition to the fact that the Yankees are already employing the lefty-mashing Andruw Jones, it would seem remiss to bypass the chance to add some left-handed pull power to take full advantage of the short porch in New Yankee Stadium. For your consideration, I submit Butler’s spray chart, as per Texas Leaguers:
While Butler lacks the pure power to the opposite field that Montero would supply, he certainly goes the opposite way quite a bit. In moving from pitcher-friendly Kauffman (which suppresses home runs by 15% for RHH) to Yankee Stadium, Butler would likely see an uptick in home runs to all fields. It is interesting to note here, however, that Butler has performed better in Kauffman than on the road throughout his career. That may be a product of his adjusting his swing to better suit his environs, but it remains to be seen how he would perform elsewhere.
Additionally, Butler has a 120 wRC+ against same-handed pitchers since 2009. That may not be up to the lofty heights of Carlos Pena, to be sure, but when taken in conjunction with his 131 wRC+ against LHP the need to platoon evaporates.
In exchange for his services, Butler will earn $8 MM in each of the next three seasons, as well as a $12.5 MM team option for 2015 ($1 MM buyout). Affordable is the first word that comes to mind, and bargain is not too far behind – he may be a DH, but the similarly skilled yet older Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Josh Willingham will earn similar salaries, without the potential for upside that Butler offers.
The looming caveat – excepting the fact that this rumor was likely pulled out of thin air – lay within the Yankees infield. With the DH spot seemingly being held in perpetuity for Alex Rodriguez, it does not appear likely that Cashman would ink a full-time DH to a multi-year deal … and a deal for Butler amounts to such a maneuver. Adding Billy Butler to the Yankees line-up would be an unquestionably significant upgrade, and more of an upgrade than any other available option – it simply isn’t feasible. I suppose Bulter’s youth and affordable contract would make him readily movable when Rodriguez does need to DH on a regular basis, but I am unsure that such reasoning is practical.
In a vacuum, I would build a deal around Phil Hughes without hesitation. With the Royals looking to upgrade their staff, perhaps the Yankees could offer Hughes and one of David Phelps, Adam Warren, or D.J. Mitchell as Major League ready arms. Or, even more optimistically, maybe the Royals would take a flier on both Hughes and A.J. Burnett (along with a healthy portion of his 2012 and 2013 salaries) – after all, Kauffman would serve both well in assuaging the symptoms of gopheritis.
None of this seems likely, to be sure … but it presents an intriguing scenario on an otherwise baseball-less day.