For those not in the know, former Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler is now a New York Yankee. Butler, who made many a Tigers pitcher miserable during his eight years in the AL Central, was released by the Oakland Athletics on September 11. He agreed to a contract with the Yankees five days later and has already made an impact, driving in two runs against Boston on Thursday.
Things were almost very different, though. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Butler originally thought he was going to sign with the Tigers. Detroit was among the first teams to reach out to him on Tuesday, and he would have been another bench bat for manager Brad Ausmus to turn to in pinch-hit situations. However, the Yankees offered Butler a bigger role, and he jumped at the opportunity.
There are a lot of layers to this rumor. For his first seven seasons, Butler was one of the more dangerous hitters in the American League. He hit .293 with a .364 on-base percentage from 2007 to 2013, and averaged 17 home runs and 35 doubles per season. He only topped the 90-RBI plateau three times during that stretch, though that speaks more to the dearth of offensive talent around him at the time. Butler wore out Tigers pitching during that stretch, and to date owns a career .324 batting average and .832 OPS against Detroit.
However, the last three years have not been so kind to Butler. He is batting just .264/.324/.387 since the start of 2014, which translates to a 98 OPS+. These numbers are passable from a good defender up the middle, but is nowhere near the production required from a lumbering DH with no defensive skills. Butler’s offensive numbers have actually ticked upward a bit compared to a brutal 2015 season, but the A’s limited him to just 242 plate appearances in 86 games this year.
Then there are Butler’s off-field issues. He was infamously involved in a clubhouse melee with teammate Danny Valencia in Oakland, one that left Butler concussed and eventually on the disabled list. As the story goes, Butler called out Valencia in front of an equipment rep (potentially costing Valencia some sponsorship money), and the two exchanged more than friendly words.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Butler got under his teammates’ skin. Our friends at Royals Review detailed some of the dirt Butler’s former teammates spilled about the 30-year-old DH. Among the many reports are this damning quote from Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan:
Billy Butler is a guy who just doesn’t know what he is. He thought he was a leader in Kansas City. And he was the furthest thing from it. He considered himself like a veteran clubhouse leader because “veteran” and “clubhouse leader” tend to be used in the same sentence and he thought that those two things went hand-in-hand when there was no leadership there. Billy is a guy whose lack of self-awareness tends to get in the way.
And it’s never a good sign when someone goes on record to say you weren’t well-liked.
"When I saw they got in a fight it did not surprise me" - Mike Sweeney on the Butler/Valencia fight #Royals— 610 Sports Radio- KC (@610SportsKC) August 26, 2016
Signing Butler would not have required a large financial commitment from the Tigers. Like with Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who was released by the Marlins in 2015), the team that signed Butler would only be on the hook for a pro-rated portion of the league minimum salary. Butler is under contract through the 2017 season as well, which would have given the Tigers a cheap bench bat had they decided to retain him.
Given his recent downturn in performance and the potential baggage he may bring into the clubhouse, losing out on Butler may have been best for the Tigers. He could have helped down the stretch in 2016 — he would not have been eligible for their playoff roster — but would not have fixed the issues ailing the Tigers lately.