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Are Billy Butler's days in Kansas City numbered?

Sam Mellinger writes the Royals are "slowly taking steps" to move on from Billy Butler. Could he soon be gone?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Mellinger has a pretty eye-opening column in today's Star, where he writes about the struggles of Billy Butler. Mellinger writes of a rising tension in the clubhouse between Butler and management, as Billy feels he is being singled out for the team's offensive struggles, as evidenced by his demotion in the lineup to seventh, while the struggling Eric Hosmer continues to hit second.

The truth is that Hosmer’s spot in the lineup is being evaluated, but for now, the team sees Butler as an underperforming and now overpaid hitter on a roster in desperate need of consistent production, exposing an ego that’s always simmered just beneath the surface.

Yost cited production from the designated hitter spot as his reason for dropping Billy.

Billy's response was a bit of a passive-aggressive jab:

"Somebody’s got to be that guy, and it’s sending a message to the rest of the guys," Butler said. "I can take it. I guess I’m a mentally tough guy. He could do it to somebody else, but I think he knows how I’ll take it." 

Mellinger writes that the different treatment afforded Hosmer and Butler is for a reason.

None of them would say it publicly, but moving Butler down in the lineup while keeping Hosmer higher is as clear a sign as the team can give that — track record or not — they have more faith in Hosmer reaching his potential than in Butler regaining his past.

Billy his having a career worst season hitting .266/.321/.342 with 2 HR 34 RBI. He is still just 28 and has a career line of .296/.361/.450, but there is no doubt he is trending downward since his career best season in 2012. ZIPS still projects Billy to hit .282/.352/.413 the rest of the way, but every day we get more evidence that Billy just isn't right this year. With a $12.5 million club option for next year the Royals will almost certainly decline, Billy's days in Kansas City could be numbered.

The club has always viewed its best future without Butler clogging the DH spot and is slowly taking steps to embrace that future sooner than later.

When Nori Aoki returns from his rehab assignment, the Royals could find themselves in a bit of a roster crunch. Sending Christian Colon down would leave them without a reserve middle infielder. Danny Valencia is out of options. The club is probably reluctant to release Raul Ibanez after he hit a home run once. The club seems reluctant to have less than twelve pitchers on its roster. Could Billy be gone once Aoki returns?

Remember, the Royals have a guaranteed contract with Billy Butler to pay him $8 million whether he is on the team or not. Butler has zero trade value right now, so forget about pawning him off on another team. Could the Royals simply outright release him? It may not happen when Aoki returns, but it seems clear that Billy may not be in a Royals uniform much longer.