The Royals have officially declined the 2015 option of Billy Butler. This comes as no surprise as Butler was set to make $12.5M if the option was exercised, a salary far beyond his value. Instead, the Royals will pay him a nice severance bonus of $1,000,000.
This is poor timing for Butler as he is coming off the worst season of his career. If he was better perhaps the Royals would have picked up his 2015 option or his value on the open market would be higher. As a full time designated hitter, one expects an above league average hitter, something Butler most assuredly was not this year. Butler hit .271/.323/.379 with just 9 home runs and his lowest walk rate of his tenure. That composite line produce a 97 wRC+ or expressed differently, a 3% below league average production. That certainly is not a line you'd expect nor want out of your designated hitter. Such a line would rank a player last in wRC+ among designated hitters last year, and in fact, Butler was ranked as such.
Being the "face"of fhe Royals, Dayton Moore has stated that the team would encourage bringing Butler back next season but at a "more manageable" salary. For his efforts this year, Butler produced $1.5M in value by WAR, but just last year he produced $7.4M and $13.2M the previous year.
For next season, the sole released projection system, Steamer, is bullish on Butler, at least in comparison to this previous season. Said system projects Butler to produce a line more befitting of a designated hitter. A line composed of .282/.352/.429 with 17 home runs and a 120 wRC+. Given a defensive and baserunning adjustment, Butler would be worth 1.6 wins, or essentially the same as he was in 2013. If projected projection came true, then Butler would be worth around $7M. The objective of course is not to pay the exact value of a player, but to receive surplus value. Given that objective, Butler would need to return for something less than $7M in 2015, a proposition not entirely unlikely and reasonably attainable.
In his time as a Royal, Butler has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league. From the time span of 2009-2014, Butler ranks 4th in all major league players in hits, behind Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Gonzalez. In that same span, Butler ranks 3rd in doubles, behind aforementioned Cano and Cabrera.
In regards to Butler present line of thinking, at least as of around 12:30 PM this day, Butler held a "press conference." As reported by Andy McCullough, Butler had this to say:
Billy Butler feels like he can play in the N.L. "I definitely showed everyone in the league that I can play 1B on a championship team."— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) November 1, 2014
Billy Butler: "Hopefully the numbers work out. Hopefully another team doesn’t come in and blow me out of the water with an offer."— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) November 1, 2014
This is just the authors humble and likely irrelevant opinion, but I do not foresee another team coming in and "blowing" Butler out of any water. At least not on the face of this Earth.
As far as possible contracts go, the DH field hasn't been exactly exemplary the past few seasons. In 2013, Luke Scott received $2.75M from the Rays and Travis Hafner $2M from the Yankees.
In this past offseason, Corey Hart (more so a first baseman than a DH) received $6M from the Mariners. James Loney was guaranteed 3 years and $21M from the Rays, Justin Morneau 2/$12.5M from the Rockies, and Mike Napoli 2/$32M from the Red Sox. All previously mentioned players provide some, if not a lot, more defensive value than Butler. Carlos Beltran was signed for 3 years and $45M by the Yankees in December and was expected to play primarily at DH.
Below you'll find the season PRIOR to free agency of those above players, or more succinctly put, their performance before entering free agency:
If the above chart is true (I give no promise of it's accuracy, as I'm just a medium which this data is being presented through) then the reader can notice that Butler is coming off the worst pending free agent 1B/DH performance of the past 3 years. This does not bode well for Butler.
This season presented the third straight decline in Butler's value. Like every other human on Earth, Butler was a year older than the previous year, but he should be in the theoretical peak of most players. What perhaps doomed Butler this year was his increased swing rate, especially in regards to pitches low in the zone. Such pitches generally do not become fly balls and even more so do not become home runs.
As for the authors guess, and it truly is a guess, for Butler's 2015 contract, I would see something in the $7-10M range on a one year deal with a mutual option or perhaps as the colloquial term goes, a "pillow contract." There's likely a team out their willing to sign Butler to a 2-3 year deal perhaps at 2/$16M or 3/$24M. Such a team would be betting on Butler returning to his '12/13 form, an entirely imaginable scenario (more so the 2013 Butler than 2012).
So I ask you, the reader, what say you to Billy Butlers 2015 employment and salary?