Proposed Trade: Billy Butler to the Rays

With the Royals recently calling up Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler looks to have been permanently moved to the DH spot. With Mike Moustakas ready to be called up to take over third base, that leaves Wilson Betmit without a position. Also, 27-year-old Clint Robinson (all hit, no field or run — a Billy Butler clone) is knocking the leather off the ball in Triple-A. It is time for the Royals to look at trading Butler to another team. The one team that screams for some offensive production from either the 1B or DH spot is the Tampa Bay Rays.

Billy Butler and the Royals

Billy Butler has been the best offensive player on the Royals over the last few years. The Royals right now a glut of players that fit into the 1B/DH role. There could be a case made for Kila Ka’aihue, Clint Robinson, Wilson Betemit or Jeff Francoeur being moved to the Royals DH spot. With Hosmer entrenched at 1B, Butler is expendable.

Just this offseason Butler signed a team-friendly extension of $3M for 2011, $8M for 2012 to 2014 and $12M for 2015 (with a $1M buyout). Using these values, I estimate how much surplus value in dollars Billy is worth if he were traded half-way through the 2011 season:

Year Salary Age $ (million)/WAR pWAR w/UBR Value($ Millions Surplus (1/2 2011 season)
2011 3 25 4.5 2.5 11.3 4.1
2012 8 26 5 2.5 12.5 4.5
2013 8 27 5 2.2 11.0 3.0
2014 8 28 5.5 1.9 10.5 2.5
2015 12 29 5.5 1.6 8.8 -3.2
Total = 10.7 Total = 10.9

Using the entire length of the contract, Butler looks to have surplus value of around $11M. Now if his $1M buyout is enacted, his surplus value jumps to $13M.

A note on how things can change in a week. I ran the values initially before Fangraphs added in UBR (baserunning values into the WAR calculation). Before the values were added, Butler looked to be near a 3 WAR player. He loses close to 0.5 WAR each season due to his baserunning. Using the WAR from just over a week ago, the surplus value of his contract had an extra 2.25 total WAR added to it leading to a total surplus value of $22.5M. Who says speed doesn’t matter?

The Void That Is 1B and DH for the Rays

From 2010 to so far in the 2011 season the Rays have accumulated 41.2 WAR from their position players. Over that same time frame, the DH and 1B position have added 1.3 WAR (1.5 from 1B and -0.2 WAR from the DH position) to that total or 3.2% of the team’s position player WAR. In the last two seasons, the Rays have used such players as Dan Johnson, Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Brad Hawpe, Hank Blalock, Rocco Baldelli, Pat Burrell and Willy Aybar at that those 2 positions. Butler accumulated 3.7 WAR over that same time frame.

The Rays seem to pride themselves with their defense, so Butler, a horrible defensive player, would be an affordable DH. Having Butler as the DH would probably give the Rays an extra one or two wins worth of production this season. In the ultra competitive AL East, those wins could be quite important at the end of the season.

The Royals will probably begin looking at the Rays top prospects to find needed help. The Rays have a fairly stacked minor league system with several top prospects such as the following players ranked in BA top 100 for 2011:

6. Jeremy Hellickson, rhp
15. Matt Moore, lhp
22. Desmond Jennings, of
27. Chris Archer, rhp
71. Jake McGee, lhp
88. Josh Sale, of
92. Hak-Ju Lee, ss

Using the work of Sky Kalkman and expanded on by ColinJ, the preceding prospect’s surplus value would range from $16.3M (Jake McGee) to $33.3M (Desmond Jennings). All of the player surplus values would be worth more than Butler’s surplus value. The one item that the Rays need to take into account is the how much extra it would be worth to the team to make the playoffs this year.

The Proposed Trade

The Royals are in need of starting pitching this season and in the future, so it would best for them to try to get a starting pitcher from the Rays. Since McGee has already begun his MLB career and thereby having a little less trade value, I see him as a nice trade option for the Rays to send the Royals for Butler. Another possible option would be for the Royals to look at trying to get a couple lower rated pitching prospects like Alex Torres, Alex Colome, Jake Thompson or Alex Cobb (which has made his major league debut, but was not as highly rated as the other pitchers at the beginning of the season).

The best trades are the ones that work out for both sides. In this trade, I feel that both sides come out ahead. The Royals move one of their many 1B/DH types for starting pitching they need. Tampa on the other hand, gets some much need help at the 1B or DH position and gives up one of their pitching prospects, but not one of their best pitching prospects.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Jason Collette
11 years ago

How often is a player dealt in the same season they sign a new deal with a team?

11 years ago
Reply to  Jason Collette

Most recent example I can think of is Nate McLouth and his multi-year signing with the Pirates – signed in Feb 2009, dealt to Atlanta in June 2009.

Antonio Bananas
11 years ago
Reply to  Dan

That’s the Pirates when they weren’t trying to win but keep every cost imaginable down to Nutter or whatever his name is can make bank. The Royals draft and scouting spending makes me think they actually care about winning. I doubt Butler gets traded.

11 years ago
Reply to  Dan

I disagree – the Pirates ‘won’ that trade by selling high on McLouth. Has nothing to do with ‘saving costs no matter what’.