Last offseason, the Oakland Athletics first big move was a head scratcher. The A’s took a risk and signed free agent designated hitter Billy Butler to a three year, $30 million dollar contract. When this deal occurred, many thought that Oakland, who rarely has an appointed designated hitter, signed a declining slugger whose production would likely continue to go south. Ultimately, they were right.
This past season, Butler’s offense continued to dwindle. He batted .251/.323/.390 with only 15 home runs. Butler’s WAR fell deeper into the negatives and went from a -0.3 in 2014 to a -0.9 this year. Additionally, he only played seven games at first base. As a whole, he did not contribute much offensively or defensively this past season.
What can the A’s do about it? Butler is one of three players guaranteed a contract for next year. But, Oakland really as no use for him anymore since they have a handful of first basemen and enough players to easily fill the designated hitter position on a daily basis .
Many will hope that the Athletics trade Butler. Even though Butler showed some promise toward the tail end of the season, his performance overall would make him extremely hard to trade. If they truly wanted him off the team, the Athletics could potentially try to trade him as an add-on to another more credible transaction involving some of their promising prospects. But, with Butler making $11.7 each year for the next two seasons, he would be an expensive and undesirable addition to any deal.
If a trade does not happen, it is unlikely that the penny-pinching A’s will just let Butler go. Butler is currently the highest paid Athletic, so, if Oakland is stuck with him, they are going to give him another chance. Instead of just benching him for the majority of the year, they do have the option to platoon Butler, an option that surprisingly the A’s did not try this past season.
Perhaps the Oakland Athletics did not try to platoon Butler in 2015 because his splits are all wonky. Butler is a right handed hitter, so it is expected that he will bat better against left handed pitching, which was true in 2014. However, this season, Butler found more success against righties. This was also the case in 2013 and 2010. If Butler cannot consistently hit well against one type of pitcher, then it would be pretty hard to platoon him. However, the A’s other slugger, Stephen Vogt, does bat left and, with Josh Phegley performing well behind the dish this season, Vogt could split his time between DH and catcher to platoon with Butler.
Because Butler had a hot September, hitting .374 with 17 RBI and six homers, the Athletics will likely give him another opportunity to prove himself in 2016. However, if Butler underperforms again, Oakland will probably try to get rid of him around the trade deadline or after the season. Let’s just hope for now that the A’s do not make any more disastrous acquisitions like this one this offseason.