Billy Butler will be a fan-favorite for the Oakland Athletics. Book that right now. The heavy-set slugger has an appeal suitable for the Oakland fan base. One can already imagine the faithful supporters in the outfield bleachers going bonkers with the “Country Breakfast” nickname.
Beyond like-ability, though, Butler will need to produce in 2015. Josh Reddick‘s importance to Oakland should also be mentioned here, but Butler’s critical status will be of equal measure. That nine home run, 66 RBI season he posted with the Kansas City Royals last year won’t cut it. He needs to hit upward of 20 bombs and knock in 85 runners for the big man to earn his money.
Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris aren’t wearing green and gold colors anymore. That’s an enormous amount of production out the window. Butler is a .295 career hitter. He blasted 29 home runs and 107 RBI back in 2012 and will need to instill that kind of middle-of-the-order fear for the A’s.
FOX’s Ken Rosenthal has noted a shocking statistic on various TV appearances: no current Oakland player hit more than 12 home runs in 2014. The A’s are constructed to have great versatility in 2015 — certainly greater than what they offered last season. Ben Zobrist and Marcus Semien offer versatility in bundles. But where’s the power? Who will be the reliable RBI machine? Powerful nucleus, thy name must be Butler. His role is undeniably massive.
Many Oakland fans consider Coco Crisp as the team’s catalyst. Donaldson was often viewed as the organization’s prototypical “put the team on his back” player. With Butler, he’ll need to accomplish a little of both. His production will take pressure off Reddick, Stephen Vogt and Ike Davis — players not used to carrying a heavy burden. Butler’s knack for reaching base, a .359 career OBP, will partially fill holes left by the offseason departures.
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The A’s aren’t rebuilding for 2015. They never were. The overreaction and blatant animosity directed toward GM Billy Beane after his perplexing moves was comical. This man doesn’t rebuild. He retools. With this acknowledged, Oakland can’t make the playoffs without Butler regaining part of 2012’s glory. That’s why Beane caught him early and blew him away with a three-year, $30 million offer.
$10 million annually for a DH who plays a little first base? The stingy A’s are handsomely paying a decaying hitter who is arguably past his prime? Slow down. Butler’s .271 average in 2014 was a career-worst. That’s still better than what most of Oakland’s players put forward last year. He’s played in 151 or more games in six straight seasons. That’s durability for a team hit hard by injuries in 2014.
If Butler can hit even .285 and bang in 75 RBI, can anyone say his presence and production won’t drastically assist the A’s playoff hopes? In today’s game, an imperfect Butler is still an offensive force. As we learned when Oakland dealt Cespedes, one can’t underestimate the mere power of a presence. Butler is just that, known for raking fastballs to the gap and whipping around a quick swing as a big man.
“Country Breakfast” will be popular words among A’s fans in 2015. The recipient of the nickname, however, will do more than create fandom among the green and gold following. He’ll help shape the fate of a playoff hopeful club in the midst of a profound roster reconstruction. Beane signed Billy Butler to be a constant. Time will tell how much Butler is able to consistently produce.