Could Billy Butler be a Texas Ranger in 2014?
Noah Jarosh of SB Nation notes that it might be somewhat out of place to label the Royals as a "sleeper" team given that Morales' market is already so thin. Despite his potent bat, there hasn't been much interest in Morales because teams are hesitant to part with the first-round pick required to sign him.
Nonetheless, Kansas City appears to be interested based on Duquette's tweet:
A sleeper team interested in Morales, as confirmed by a source, are the Royals - love that lineup with him in the middle of it !!— Jim Duquette (@Jim_Duquette) January 2, 2014
Even if the Royals were willing to forfeit the pick and sign Morales, acquiring him wouldn't necessarily be an easy transition. Currently, Eric Hosmer is the team's full-time first baseman. He is a star in the making and isn't leaving Kansas City anytime soon.
Butler has been the Royals' full-time DH over the last couple seasons, given his defensive shortcomings. I would have to think that the Royals would dangle Butler on the trade market, if they signed Morales. If that is the case, the Rangers should be prepared to act and make Kansas City an offer for Butler.
Now, I'm on record here at B/R for saying that the Rangers shouldn't add any more major offensive pieces by trading DH Mitch Moreland. I've argued that Texas should reap the benefits of a guy who is making just over $500,000 but has been producing like a guy making $4 to $5 million per year at least.
Here's the caveat: I would be absolutely willing to trade Moreland and a package of a couple prospects to the Royals for Butler. I think he would fit incredibly well with the Rangers for several reasons.
For one, Butler is a power right-handed bat, something that Texas could use one more of. Adding Butler into the mix as the full-time DH would balance out the lineup even more, and would give the Rangers another legitimate threat against lefty starters.
As a hitter, Butler is miles ahead of Moreland. Over his career, he has a .298 batting average and a .364 OBP. He is a complete hitter, a doubles machine, who can hit for average and power. He's hit .300 or better in three of his seven seasons with Kansas City.
He was an American League All-Star in 2012. He also takes more walks and strikes out less often than Moreland.
Butler is also one of the most durable players in baseball. Over the last five seasons, he has only missed eight games. So the Rangers would be getting the most out of him. His bat would always be in the lineup.
As a major plus, Butler hit .284 against right-handed starters last season, and hit .293 against all righty pitchers overall.
This stat indicates that he not only can handle being the DH against either righties or lefties, but also that he is particularly effective in the later innings of games. That is the sign of a clutch gene. Because Butler can handle both righties and lefties—.298 against lefty starters last season, and .275 against lefties overall—Texas wouldn't have to worry about a platoon to play matchups.
Furthermore, he is affordable. Butler is signed through 2014 and will make $8 million this season. He has a $12.5 million team option for 2015, by which time he'll only be 29. This is a contract that Texas could easily absorb. It shouldn't be a problem to pick up the 2015 team option either.
By then, Michael Choice might be ready to take over for Alex Rios, whose option the Rangers may not pick up in 2015.
As someone acquired via trade, Butler obviously wouldn't cost the Rangers a first-round pick.
But if Texas acquired Butler and decided to pick up his 2015 option, it could play him out that season and then slap a qualifying offer on him that offseason. Then it'd be guaranteed a first-round pick of its own at worst.
By doing that it would have a net gain of one first-round draft pick if Butler signed elsewhere, as opposed to gaining nothing doing the same thing for Morales. He would cost a pick and the Rangers might get it back.
All of that together is far more value than what Morales would provide. Butler is a better hitter all around, is cheaper to acquire, is over two years younger and handles splits as a righty batter as well as or better than Morales does as a switch-hitter.
Unlike Morales, Butler has a set price right now, and is much more likely to add equal value to the Ranger lineup for that price. Remember, Texas doesn't lose a pick by getting Butler. That was the only thing holding me back from wanting Morales.
In short, Butler represents a perfect combination of the bat of Morales with the value of Moreland. For a minimum of a two-year window, he gives the Rangers another righty power threat outside of Beltre and Rios. How would this lineup look in 2014?
- LF: Shin-Soo Choo (L)
- SS: Elvis Andrus (R)
- 1B: Prince Fielder (L)
- 3B: Adrian Beltre (R)
- RF: Alex Rios (R)
- DH: Billy Butler (R)
- C: Geovany Soto (R)
- CF: Leonys Martin (L)
- 2B: Jurickson Profar (S—bats left most of the time)
Talk about balance. Butler would be the fourth player in that lineup who's had an OBP of .370 or better in the last two seasons, along with Choo, Fielder and Beltre.
Now, what would the Royals want in return? Well, one of their main problems is that they have a lot of young talent all around that is going to be getting really expensive pretty soon. See Salvador Perez, Hosmer, Greg Holland, Tim Collins and basically the rest of their bullpen, which might be the AL's best.
As a small-market team, they likely won't have the cash to extend all of those players. Perez, Hosmer and Holland could all be All-Stars this year, to put it in perspective.
So especially if the Royals sign Morales, I think it would be in their best interest to deal Butler and try to get what they can before they possibly lose him to free agency in two years. With Morales, he has no place to play in Kansas City.
How about this package for the Royals?
Texas trades Moreland, Luke Jackson and Alec Asher to the Royals for Butler.
I'd be okay with throwing in Alexi Ogando instead of Jackson. But I imagine that the Royals would be looking for more youth in a package.
You might be thinking that the Royals have no need for Moreland if they signed the switch-hitting Morales, and you'd be correct. But one thing they do need, according to Jarosh, is pitching depth.
They are reportedly seeking to sign another starting pitcher to strengthen their rotation—one that could possibly lose Ervin Santana to free agency.
So perhaps they try to flip Moreland and a prospect for a decent starting arm? Moreland, whether Kansas City would decide to keep him or deal him for another need, has value because of his extremely economical price.
There is a team, and probably at least a few, who would gladly take Moreland's production for his price.
Jackson and Asher are high-floor, high-ceiling pitching prospects who would have value to the Royals in the future. Ogando could immediately add versatility to their bullpen. The Royals' current rotation isn't exactly young with James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, and Jason Vargas, who is now on the wrong side of 30.
Just a thought.
Of course, Kansas City may decide, like many other teams have, that a first-round pick is too much to give up for Morales. But if they do add Morales, Jon Daniels needs to be ready to jump.
Butler is a guy who would improve what might already be baseball's best lineup.
*All stats and contract info courtesy of baseball-reference.com