As the pandemic of the summer malaise sweeps the Royals fanbase for the twenty-ninth time in the past twenty years, you start to look around for beacons; a light here and there guiding you towards a future on the far-flung shores of tomorrow that presumes to be the fulfillment of the promises currently adrift in the flotsam of the current season. Coupling the too-often-biannual comatic symptoms striking all of us is that it doesn't appear as if there is going to be that late-season call-up that reinvigorates your interest, if only for a week.
Myers? No. Odorizzi? Nope. Giavotella? Clearly, not going to happen. The merits of these decisions notwithstanding, they do have a residual affect on the ability of the fans to have their interest piqued wading through the doldrums of the final weeks of another lost season.
There are two things that the more ardent fan may be interested in, but will perhaps fly under the notice of the more casual fan that has long since abandoned their irrefutable admiration for Luis Mendoza. The first of which is that the Royals' franchise record for doubles in a season is being threatened again. Although last year's pursuit was a four-horse race between Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur, and Butler, no player was particularly close. this year the only player threatening is Alex Gordon, as Butler has taken to the unusual pursuit of trying to hit more homeruns. As it stands right now, Gordon would need to hit 16 doubles to tie Hal McRae's record of 54, plus one more to pass him. With 50 games left to play, it's entirely conceivable that he could do it. This pursuit, however, is relatively banal but serves as an encapsulation of the fact that Gordon is having yet another premiere season without much acclaim.
The more exciting pursuit is from the aforementioned Billy Butler and the fondness he is showing for depositing pitches beyond the outfield walls. He may or may not break Balboni's unreasonably low and completely attainable single-season HR record of 36 this season. In all fairness, I'm fairly comfortable saying he won't. If he finishes the month with 30 or so, then I'll change my mind. But right now, I don't think it's going to happen.
He is, however, more than likely to finish the season with 30 or more, something that hasn't been done since Jermaine Dye in 2000. Yes, twelve glorious years since a Royals player has managed to accomplish a feat that has become a fairly commonplace occurrence (373 times from 2000 to 2012), a club sporting such highly-touted members as Mike Jacobs, Eric Karros, Richie Sexson, and Tony Batista. Now, this isn't to suggest that 30 HR's is some kind of mythical quest that proves the prowess of a hitter (see: all those people I just mentioned), but it's one of those benchmarks that people like to point to when it comes to player evaluation.
The difference between 29 and 30 homeruns has very little to do with production and much more to do with perception, and the fact is that Billy Butler's perception around the league is going to change if/when he hits his 30th homerun and/if he gets his 100th RBI.
And it raised the question, "Is Billy Butler too valuable to trade?"
Now obviously, there's no such thing as a player who can't be traded "under any circumstances". Everyone is available for the right price (or, in Francoeur's case, any price). But the gap between what Butler means to this team and the value he would bring in return may be widening to such a point where moving him becomes problematic.
I have every confidence in the world that Eric Hosmer's performance this year is an aberration. I fully expect him to become more of what we saw last year (and more) over the coming seasons. And Mike Moustakas' recent slump aside, I think he will produce at a high level as well. Combine this with the efforts of Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Wil Myers (eventually), and whoever plays second, it shapes up to be a productive lineup in the near future. If all of those pistons are working in unison, the Royals become a vehicle that can run without the XM Satellite Radio that is Billy Butler. But the reality is that the reliability of those players is far from certain, particularly over the next two seasons, when Butler is making under $9 million a year.
|Highest OBP By Season, Since 2009 (Min. 400 Pas)|
If you are a strict adherent to trading a player at his peak value, it doesn't get much higher from here on out for Butler. He'll be coming off a career year coupled with a team-friendly contract that can keep him under wraps until the end of 2015. It represents three discount years of a player who has consistently provided excess value who is just now hitting his peak, and the positives absolutely destroy any statements grounded in the presumption that he has no position. Combined with the implication that Kauffman's park factor inhibits a portion of his power and other teams may feel that he still has untapped potential.
If you have certain apprehensions regarding the expected production levels of the other members assured to be in the lineup a majority of the time over the next three seasons though, you should at least have some mild consternation at the prospect of trading away the most consistent bat in your lineup. Especially now, when it appears that he is finally unleashing the power potential that many of us assumed he had.
Awhile ago, I advocated a "wait and see" approach regarding Billy Butler, in hopes that he would improve his already exceptional offensive performance, upping his trade value further. Well, he has. And that, combined with the struggles of other members in the lineup, now have me wondering whether or not the Royals could afford to field a team without him next year (assuming it really is Our Time).
However, someone is going to have to be traded sooner or later. Butler has the 2nd-largest contract on the team and currently provides the most return without impacting the defensive side of things. In a lot of ways, he's their best trade chip available; a powerful impact bat with a friendly contract entering his prime. And for all of those same reasons, moving him may hurt a lot more than keeping him.
Eventually the Royals will have to trade him. They will have to. They will have to. The upcoming off-season might be their best shot to get a monster return for him. There's a lot of things that can happen between now and the 2014 trade deadline (The last really good chance to get a sizable return for him). Injury (DeJesus). Ineffectiveness (Francoeur, literally a dozen others). A return to the good-not-great days of 2009-2011. He's been great. And it's been fun. But it is fast becoming the time to steel ourselves against the inevitable. It's the beacon on the far-flung shore. We're just wading, biding our time.