Padres Free Agent Target: Billy Butler
Does it get any better than to have a nickname like “Country Breakfast?” With a moniker like that, you better be able to bring it day in and day out at the ball park. For Billy Butler, not only has he brought for 7 of his 8 big league seasons, but he has done it in complete anonymity in Kansas City with the Royals. The nation got their first glimpse of Country Breakfast this past postseason, as he hit to the tune of .333 in the Royals’ seven-game defeat to NL West rival San Francisco. Fortunately for the Padres, Butler had a down year in 2014, and that could play to their advantage.
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We’ve discussed other first base options for the Padres over the past couple of weeks, and the staff consensus here at Friars On Base, is that Adam LaRoche is the ideal fit given the team’s needs and payroll flexibility. But let’s take a closer look at Butler, and what he might be able to bring to Petco Park. During his career, Butler has averaged 18 home runs, 87 runs driven in, and a .295 batting average–all of which would’ve led the Padres this past season. How much did he make in Kansas City? Try $8 million dollars, add in the fact that he’s going into his age-29 season in 2015, and he very much becomes a viable option for the Padres to pursue this winter.
The fact that Butler had his worst offensive season since becoming a full-time big leaguer, is an advantage. Do you know what $8 million dollars got the Padres in 2014? Try Josh Johnson. There! In 2014, Butler only had 9 long balls, and drove in 66 in 603 at-bats. For a man as large as he is, Butler has been durable, playing in 150 or more games every season since 2008. Given, he is a designated hitter by trade, but he can play first base coming to the National League. With almost 3300 chances at first base, Butler holds a .992 fielding percentage. He’ll never win a Gold Glove or make you miss Adrian Gonzalez‘s fine leather work, but Butler would be signed to hit. The point is, he won’t hurt you with the glove either, he just won’t make the “Web Gem” plays.
Butler’s bat plays well in the deep power alleys of Petco, averaging 38 doubles per season. His career OPS+ is 119, well above the league replacement level average, and he draws close to 60 walks per year. Plug Country Breakfast into the middle of the Padres lineup, and all of a sudden you can’t just assume a couple of single and a couple of strikeouts end the frame. The only downside to Butler, is that his slugging percentage has dropped in each of the past two seasons to .396, and his walk rate is down almost 7% as well. Career decline or just a couple of down seasons?
It’s as if Butler’s down year and the Padres’ need for an inexpensive, impact bat at first base were a match made in heaven. Butler can’t be looking to break the bank, but rather reestablish himself after a down season. The Padres, knowing they can’t afford a bat of Butler’s caliber long term, make an offer of 2-years, $20 million dollars. The Pads get their free agent bat to begin overhauling their lineup, Butler gets two seasons to prove 2014 was an aberration and going into his age-31 season, he can prove to other teams that he can A. still hit the way his career norms have shown and B. re-establish himself as a first baseman, not just a designated hitter.