A lackluster body of work over the past two years did not dissuade the A’s from going hard after Billy Butler.
Oakland signed the veteran DH/first baseman to a three-year , $30 million deal Wednesday, viewing him as a valued commodity in a big league landscape where the balance of power has swung toward the pitchers.
“Finding right-handed power in the middle of the lineup at this stage is difficult,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “He’s always just been a good hitter and a very tough out. It’s not very often you get free agents at the time of their career that they still have some upside to them. He shouldn’t be a guy, physically, who’s on the downside of his career. “
But Butler, who turns 29 in April, is coming off a couple of down years at the plate. An All-Star in 2012 with Kansas City, when he hit .313 with 29 home runs and 107 RBI, he’s averaged just 12 homers and 74 RBI over the past two years.
The A’s, however, see an impact right-handed bat that can boost an offense that sagged badly in the second half of 2014 and hit an American League-worst .239 against left-handers. Beane said Butler will see significant time at designated hitter but will also play first base a lot against lefties.
So what’s next for the A’s? Take your best guess with a front office that never fails to surprise during the winter months. Beane acknowledged the urgency to address shortstop, with free agent Jed Lowrie likely headed elsewhere.
Is the Butler signing an indication that Oakland’s brain trust will make more moves to improve for 2015, or could we see trades that signal a rebuild? Beane said in an ideal world the A’s will accomplish both, but consider these comments from the GM:
“I don’t know that we have quite the depth we had last year or the year before. The best way of answering is we won’t be so aggressive in trading some of our younger players as we have been the last couple of years. I think now we need to put some focus on the younger players with us already, and consider bringing some (more) in. It’s a bit of a balancing game.”
That certainly leaves the door open to trade(s) that net a haul of prospects to reinvigorate a farm system that was stripped of its top two players -- shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney -- in a “win-now” trade made last July with the Chicago Cubs.
There is speculation the A’s might make veteran starters Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir available this winter. Asked specifically about Samardzija, who is due to become a free agent after the upcoming season, Beane responded:
“Once again, the whole winter is going to be fluid. Right now, we’re very happy to have Jeff at the top of the rotation.”
Right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are both progressing well so far in rehab from their Tommy John surgeries, which happened last March and April, respectively. The A’s are hoping those two can return early in the regular season, and if they’re confident in that time frame, perhaps dealing a veteran starter becomes more likely.
One way or another, the A’s need a shortstop come Opening Day. Beane acknowledged that the free agent market isn’t “robust” at that position. He said all avenues will be explored – free agency, trades and in-house options such as Andy Parrino.
Shifting gears, it’s worth noting that Beane said catcher John Jaso, fully cleared for baseball after complications from a concussion, could get some time at first base next season. If the left-handed hitting Jaso and Butler were to both play first, for the sake of speculation, it could mean more time in left field for Brandon Moss.