OAKLAND – Billy Butler is a man of his word. Upon signing with the A’s in November, he was determined to pry jersey No. 16 away from Josh Reddick, saying Reddick would get a nice gift in return.
Sure enough, Reddick was soon the owner of a new Xbox One system.
“I’ll probably take him out to dinner a few times to show my appreciation,” Butler said. “He’s great, I appreciate it.”
All of the players who gathered over the weekend for A’s FanFest were in the same boat, trying to get to know each other after a news-packed offseason that brought incredible roster turnover. Then again, nobody’s experience was quite like Butler’s.
He was signed Nov. 19 to be the team’s D.H. and part-time first baseman, the first big move that kicked off GM Billy Beane’s three-month flurry of wheeling and dealing. Butler joined a team coming off three consecutive playoff appearances, but then watched as four All-Stars were traded away one after another – third baseman Josh Donaldson, first baseman Brandon Moss, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and catcher Derek Norris.
Things took an encouraging turn when the A’s swung a deal to get versatile veteran infielder Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Rays. Then Escobar was immediately flipped to the Nationals for two-time All-Star reliever Tyler Clippard, a key addition to the bullpen.
All told, the A’s have pulled off a whopping nine offseason trades to this point.
That’s enough to make a player dizzy, particularly a newcomer like Butler, an eight-year veteran whose entire career to this point has been spent with the Kansas City Royals.
“It was a whirlwind,” he said. “But it was exciting to see how it was gonna shape up. You just realize that when moves are made, Billy Beane’s never done.”
In a clubhouse where players will need some time acclimating to each other, Butler, 28, would seemingly taken on some leadership responsibilities given his big league service time. Joining a new team is a different experience for him, but he got used to seeing players coming and going while with the Royals.
“It’s different, but similar in a lot of ways,” he said in comparing Oakland and Kansas City. “I’m going small market to small market. I was with the Royals for (eight) years. I’ve seen a lot of change. I was just always the guy welcoming guys to the change. It’s different being on the other side.”
But his biggest contribution needs to come on the field. The A’s traded away plenty of offensive firepower, and the right-handed hitting Butler is being counted on for production in the middle of the order.
From 2009-12, he hit .306 while averaging 21 home runs and 93 RBI. Those numbers have dipped in the past two seasons, however, and last year Butler hit .271 with just nine homers and 66 RBI. But upon signing Butler to a three-year $30 million contract, Beane pointed to Butler’s track record and relatively young age as reasons for optimism that a bounce-back season is in store.
“He’s always just been a good hitter and a very tough out,” Beane said. “It’s not very often you get free agents at the time of their career that they still have some upside to them.”
And Butler will begin his Oakland career with No. 16 on his back. He said it’s been his number going all the way back to his youth, with the only interruption being his rookie year of 2007, when he took No. 21 because veteran Reggie Sanders had 16.
Reddick, by the way, now wears No. 22.
“Sixteen has been my number all my life,” Butler said. “It’s just kind of a superstition.”
It also represents some familiarity in a season that brings Butler plenty of change.