The names most often mentioned as candidates for the Yankees’ DH opening read like a who’s who from the early part of the last decade. Emerging amid the cluttered speculation about veterans like Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Pena, and Raul Ibanez, however, was a more intriguing rumor about the Kansas City Royals’ 1B/DH Billy Butler.
Saying that a player is underrated is perhaps the most overused cliché in baseball, but it really does apply to Butler. Because he debuted at such a young age, it seems as if Butler has been around forever, but this year, the right handed hitter will only be 26. And, although defense has proved challenging, he has had very few difficulties handling the bat since his promotion at the age of 21. In fact, not only has Butler developed into one of the game’s best young hitters, over the last three seasons, there haven’t been many better, regardless of age. Since 2009, Butler’s OPS+ of 128 ranks 22nd among all major leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances, placing him on par with the likes of Hanley Ramirez and Mark Teixeira and a notch above Alex Rodriguez and Chase Utley.
If the Yankees were able to acquire Butler, they’d essentially be replacing Jesus Montero with a player who not only fits a very similar profile, but is only four years older. What’s more, Butler is signed to a very reasonable contract that calls for him to make $8 million over the next three seasons. Even though that is out of the Yankees reported $1-2 million price range, Butler’s existing ability and potential for improvement would seem to mitigate the extra expense.
According to the rumor, the cost of obtaining Butler would be Phil Hughes, which seems to make the deal a no-brainer from the Yankees’ perspective. If Brian Cashman could pull off an exchange that boils down to Montero and Hughes for Butler and Michael Pineda, the Sporting News might have to rename the executive of the year award after him. Unfortunately, there’s a reason why the deal seems too good to be true; based on the lack of credible sources, it probably is.
Over the past couple of decades (yes, decades), the Royals have been an attractive starting point for trade rumors. That’s what happens when you spend over 20 years in a rebuilding mode. However, things may be about to change for Kansas City. In addition to an established offensive player like Butler, the Royals’ offense also boasts a resurgent Alex Gordon as well as promising young hitters like Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas. What’s more, despite the recent promotions of several highly regarded prospects, the Royals’ farm system still has a few more on the way, including outfielders Wil Myers and Bubba Starling.
Because of the organization’s position player depth, it might make sense for the Royals to consider shopping Butler, who, like Montero, seems pigeon-holed into being a DH. Using that logic, Kansas City might be willing to trade his bat for pitching, just like the Yankees did for Pineda. However, Hughes doesn’t seem close to Butler’s value, and might not represent much of an upgrade for the Royals, who have more than their fair share of young pitching prospects, including lefties Mike Montgomery and Dan Duffy and right hander Jake Odorizzi. If anything, the Royals would probably be better off adding a veteran arm (Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson?) than trading from its core of young hitters for another pitching prospect.
Considering the depressed state of the A.L. Central, which finds the White Sox and Twins in a rebuilding mode and the Tigers facing the loss of one of their best hitters, it isn’t a stretch to think the Royals could contend in 2012. Even without a free agent acquisition, Kansas City is on the ascendant, while other teams in the division are taking a step back. That’s not only bad news for the A.L. Central, but it also means the rest of baseball may no longer be able to lean on Kansas City for talent. So, if the Yankees are going to fill their hole at DH via a trade, the Royals are one team Cashman can probably scratch off his list.
Judging by the franchise’s historic reluctance to install a full-time DH, the Yankees could decide to use the DH slot as a merry go-round for the team’s veterans. However, the idea of acquiring a younger bat is one worth investigating further. TYA compiled a list of some interesting alternative targets, but the cost to obtain them would probably be prohibitive. Ultimately, if the Yankees decide to use a rotating DH, a young, versatile player will be more a necessity than a luxury. So, unless Cashman is willing to turn over the DH slot to one of the many veteran bats hanging around the free agent market, he’ll need to find a way to be just a little more creative this offseason.