Oakland Athletics: Time to Cut Bait on Billy Butler?

Mar 29, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training game at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training game at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Billy Butler was expected to be a solid run producer for the Oakland Athletics. Instead, he has been chained to the bench over the past few days. Is it time to cut tied with the designated hitter?

Is there any hope Oakland Athletics designated hitter/first baseman Billy Butler will  return to the form that made his a fan favorite with the Kansas City Royals? Well, it would appear to many he’s just not a happy camper in the Bay Area.

Why would he be? When he couldn’t get Dayton Moore and the Royals to take him back, there had been signs he was on the decline. Since becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2007, Butler hit at least .279 every year, and cleared .300 three times. He was well on his way to a 2014 season where he might have hit below .250, but Eric Hosmer went down with an injury for, essentially, all of August.

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Butler always believed he could be an everyday first baseman in the bigs, and in that month he felt like he proved it. Granted, he’s no Hosmer; the best defensive first baseman in Royals history. But Butler stepped up and was more than adequate. He did make some errors that Hosmer likely would not have, but he was solid and steady as Kansas City made a playoff push.

Once he resumed the DH role, he hit like the Billy Butler of yesteryear, and finally, finally he and the Royals, after all those seasons of futility, made it into the playoffs.

The the Royals made that magical run to Game 7 of the World Series, including a most-unlikely win over the A’s in the Wild Card game.

And then it was just over. Gone. Ka-put.

Butler was a free agent, and brought his best offer back to Moore, who remembered the signs of decline and said in essence “thanks for everything, but no thanks.”

So in 2015 Butler begins playing in a ballpark so out of tune to his game, which is fouling off pitches until he can straighten one out, that he can’t snap out of his funk. And from afar, he watches the team he helped build finish what they started in 2014, winning it all last fall.

That’s gotta hurt.

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Instead of playing with a team that was constantly doing something great, and genuinely likes each other, Butler is now playing for an organization that is dedicated to building on the cheap, and turns over its roster like gardeners turn over compost. He plays in a place where after Opening Day, the fans stay away in droves and there are tarps over most of the seats.

Yogi Berra once said “90 percent of this game is half-mental.” While it’d be silly to suggest pharmaceuticals for improved mental health, what Billy Butler needs most is a reboot. A change of scenery, a chance to become Butler 2.0.

The problem with Butler finding a use for his baseball glove is there have never been more highly skilled first basemen in the game. Hosmer’s won three Gold Gloves, but is still looking for his first All-Star appearance. If someone wanted Billy B. to man the bag at first, that general manager would have identified himself by now.

The last thing the Athletics want to do, or can afford, is to pay someone to play for another team, and Butler isn’t quite halfway through the three-year, $30 million contract he signed. So the team and player may well be stuck with each other.

It seems more that what’s missing from the A’s right now is a level of enthusiasm that Butler, after years of hard work, enjoyed at Kauffman Stadium. Heck, he even had his own barbecue sauce and was passing out bottles for good plays.

The bottom line is hitters have to hit their way out of slumps, and so it is with Billy Butler. He’s a professional and if what happened in KC last year is bothering him, he’d never say so.

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But if the Oakland brain trust isn’t going to try and get its money’s worth from Billy B., then it may be time to chow down on some salary and part ways. Here’s hoping the A’s give him that shot, and Butler can capitalize for another successful run.

He deserves that.