Billy Butler Is Curious Fit for Oakland A's and Pitcher-Friendly Stadium

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterNovember 19, 2014

Getty Images

In the world of Major League Baseball's offseason, with teams trying to obtain and jettison players all at once with the goal of getting better, not every signing, trade or transaction makes sense right away. Some, in fact, don't appear to be the right fit at all, while others are at least curious.

That might be the best way to characterize the decision by the Oakland Athletics—an organization run by highly regarded, outside-the-box-thinking general manager Billy Beane—to come to a reported agreement with Billy Butler on a three-year, $30 million contract, per Jane Lee of MLB.com.

Sure, the 28-year-old designated hitter is coming off a World Series appearance with the Kansas City Royals, the only organization he's known since being a first-round pick in 2004.

But 2014 was far from a good year for him, and now the small-budget A's have locked up a limited player to multiple seasons at a price that can't be considered a bargain based on his recent performance.

Here's how Butler has fared since his monster 2012 season:

Billy Butler's Offensive Decline Since Monster 2012 Season
2012679.313/.373/.51062 (29).377139
2013668.289/.374/.41242 (15).345117
2014603.271/.323/.37941 (9).31197

That 2012 campaign appears to be the aberration at this point, with a clear decline in each of the two years since.

In fact, in 2014, Butler was a below-average offensive player based on his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 97. For this metric, 100 rates as the league average and anything higher is above average; anything lower is below average.

A wRC+ of 97 essentially means Butler was three percent worse than average with the bat—not exactly what a team is looking for out of a position that has the word "hitter" in it.

That makes this signing look, at least initially, like an odd way for the cash-strapped A's to spend $30 million, even more so when factoring in Oakland's ballpark, one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in baseball, especially for home runs.

Is Billy Beane seeing something others aren't in Billy Butler?
Is Billy Beane seeing something others aren't in Billy Butler?Reinhold Matay/Associated Press/Associated Press

But whenever Beane makes a move that at first appears curious, we have to wonder what we're not seeing that Beane and co. might be.

To that end, the guess is that Beane figures Butler might still have some life left in his bat given that he's only 28 years old—young for a typical free agent. A bounce back to his 2013 numbers (.289/.374/.412) isn't out of the question, and if that happens, Butler could be worth the $10 million a year in average annual value.

Beane also might be expecting to put Butler in position to succeed more by having manager Bob Melvin—a platoon master if there ever was one—hit him primarily against left-handers, against whom Butler sported a .321/.387/.460 line in 2014, albeit in only 155 plate appearances.

For his career, the former Kansas City Royal owns a .912 OPS against opposite-side pitchers, compared to just .771 versus same-siders.

Because you probably don't know, this is what Nate Freiman looks like.
Because you probably don't know, this is what Nate Freiman looks like.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Given his history, Butler likely will split the majority of his time platooning between first base and DH with lefty swingers Brandon Moss, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt. In that role, he's an upgrade over Nate Freiman, of whom you may only have heard if you're an A's fan.

For the amount of money and length of time they're paying him, though, Butler is going to have to play regularly—he can't be strictly a platooner.

Susan Slusser @susanslusser

W/ #Athletics love of platoons, not sure why they'd be Butler's top choice. He can hit RHPs. Seems best fit w/ A's in platoon role tho.

That would make this move a little easier to understand, but it does leave questions.

Why would the A's, of all teams, splurge on a player with both a limited bat and glove when they have needs at other positions, namely shortstop and second base, where the projected starters at the moment are, uh, Nick Punto and Eric Sogard?

And why did they feel such a need to give so much money—and three years—to Butler when he offers no defensive value at all and there are at least a half-dozen other capable DH-type hitters on the market?

As Buster Olney of ESPN (subscription required) wrote after the Toronto Blue Jays traded DH/platoon hitter Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers in early November:

Lind will play first base for the Brewers, but he is generally viewed as a defensively challenged DH-type player, and there is an ocean of that type of player available. And this at a time when a lot of the AL teams are using the DH position to give some respite to players...

Even with Lind having been swapped and Victor Martinez having been re-signed for $68 million by the Detroit Tigers, many players who fit this bill remain readily available: Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Corey Hart, Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Ludwick.

And that's just among free agents. Trade candidates could include the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard or even Evan Gattis of the Atlanta Braves.

In short, there is no shortage of players who can approximate what Butler can do—and almost certainly at less than $10 million a year for three years.

That's what makes this puzzling. The A's have shown a knack for finding value in a number of ways, but giving that much money and that many years to a flawed, limited player like Butler when there are other options out there just seems, well, un-Beane-like.

But this also would be far from the first time Beane and his fellow savvy front-officers prove to see something or know something that others don't.

Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.