Roughly six years ago, I remember telling those few that actually listen to me that nothing the Royals did would matter if Alex Gordon and Billy Butler did not become impact bats. At this point, they pretty much have.
Gordon has provided 12.8 fWAR over the last two seasons. His 2011 triple slash of .303/.376/.502 was prettier than his 2012 line of .294/.368/.455, but those are both pretty good. Especially when you combine those with legitimate Gold Glove defense and good baserunning. In a baseball world where twenty-nine is suddenly old, a slow decline might be in the projections. Gordon, however, keeps himself in bizarrely excellent shape and I don't think it is unreasonable to expect him to perform around his 2012 level, with another 2011 type season in the mix, through 2015.
Butler, who doesn't field well and runs hard, but not fast, brings one tool to the table. Luckily, it is one hell of a tool (easy, everyone, don't get perverse). Billy has surpassed 670 plate appearances in each of the last four seasons and had more than 60 extra base hits in each of those years. In 2012, Butler upped his home run production to 29. Yes, he is just a designated hitter, but a career wOBA of .359 and slash line of .300/.362/.468 is good enough for me.
Butler is signed through 2014 with a team option for 2015, meaning that the Royals have three seasons (should they so choose) to capitalize on the Butler/Gordon duo. Can they? Will they?
The national rumor mill is consistently whispering that Dayton Moore is trying to, contemplating or even on the verge of making a 'big deal'. As we all know, there is no such thing as a 'big deal' without Gordon, Butler, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers or Mike Moustakas involved. Yes, I intentionally left Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar out of that sentence as I don't believe Moore will consider trading either.
I think a lot of people, knowledgeable people, would advocate using Butler or Gordon as the centerpiece of the deal, banking on the upside of Hosmer, Moustakas and Myers over the known abilities of Billy and Alex. There is some logic to that thinking and, almost certainly, the Royals are likely to be better in 2015-2017 by keeping the latter three and trading the older, established duo now.
Are any of us patient enough to wait THAT much longer? I don't even think David and Dan Glass are that patient, even if they don rake in the cash in the years leading up to that time period. Certainly, if you hold out hope for some sort of magic in 2013, that magic has to include Butler and Gordon in the Royals' lineup. What about 2014?
Most everyone thinks that Eric Hosmer will rebound from a horrible sophomore effort, but we don't know that for a fact. Right now, isn't it a safer bet that Gordon will be a four WAR player than Hosmer in 2014? Are you certain that Wil Myers' bat is going to give you two plus WAR in 2014 like Billy Butler's almost certainly will?
Quite frankly, Eric Hosmer might be a monster in 2013 and Wil Myers might come up the first of May and win Rookie of the Year. If that happens, and the Royals have traded Gordon for a real life front line starting pitcher (basically anyone from Tampa), then the team will be decent, maybe even good. What if that doesn't happen?
What if the Royals make a trade like that which, by the way, means Jeff Francoeur likely plays everyday all year, even after Myers comes up, and Hosmer doesn't set the world on fire and Mike Moustakas' on-base percentage still lingers around the .300 mark and Wil Myers hits like a rookie instead of a Rookie of the Year?
Here's what Dayton Moore pretty much has to decide RIGHT NOW:
- Will Gordon and Butler maintain their level of production through 2015?
- Will Hosmer, Myers and Moustakas provide the same or better and, if so, when?
- How desperate are you to win in 2013?
If you are asking me - and I know you aren't, but you get this opinion for free - I don't trade Gordon or Butler. If the return for a trade centered around one of the 'younger three' is a Hellicksen or Moore or whomever, then I do make that move. The fear, of course, is that you are trading an All-Star, but you have to give to get. I am a little desperate to win in 2013 and certainly in 2014. I believe the Royals' best chance to do so starts with building a batting order around Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.