When A’s GM Billy Beane signed free agent hitter Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million dollar contract last November, I took several calls and e-mails from bemused and irate fans who did not approve of the transaction. The mild backlash surprised me. Why wouldn’t a fan want a professional hitter like Butler on their team? The responses ranged from “he doesn’t hit enough home runs” to “he can’t play defense” to “he’s too expensive.”
First of all, did any of those protesting fans remember the second half of last season when Oakland couldn’t buy a hit for weeks on end? Who cares about a dinger – how about a simple single for once? Second, the A’s have had abysmal defensive first basemen for years and Butler couldn’t be any worse if he had to play over there. Recall makeshift first basemen like Brandon Moss and Alberto Callaspo? And third, there’s no salary cap in baseball, so what the heck? You’d think an A’s fan would be ecstatic that Fisher and Wolff actually opened up their tight checkbooks for once.
I was very excited when I heard of the Butler signing. I didn’t think he would pick the spacious confines of the Coliseum, and I also thought he could get more money from some other team. Yet when all the other dominoes started falling, like the shocking Josh Donaldson trade and the Moss giveaway (spare me on how good Joey Wendle is – maybe someday), national pundits wondered aloud on the thinking behind paying 30 mil for a guy during a “rebuild.” Well, you have to pitch and you have to hit, right? If anything, we knew in Butler that the A’s would have at least one real, major league hitter when the season began. Plus, the contract was backloaded in case he needed to be traded due to poor performance from either him or the team. This season Butler is making $6.6 million. He will make $11.6 million in each of the next two years.
Butler has also been extremely durable in his career. He played in 158, 159, 158, 161, 162, and 151 games respectively in his last six big league seasons. A former first-round pick (14th overall) out of Wolfson High in Jacksonville, Florida, he has certainly lived up to being such a high selection. And although the A’s have only played 16 games this season, Butler has started every one as DH and has been fantastic. He’s hit .377 with three homers and 12 RBI, and has been a great clubhouse presence.
I got to meet him at Media Day (pictured above) and he was very approachable and confident. Still recovering from his World Series disappointment, Butler nonetheless was already fitting in with his new teammates, many of whom he was meeting for the first time. When I sat down to hold a brief interview with Butler, I noticed that a bunch of players had gravitated toward him and wanted to just hang out with him. And you’ll recall that upon his return to Kansas City last weekend, he definitely had Brett Lawrie’s back despite a decade in powder blue. He was a peacemaker after the games, but looked ready to throw down during them.
So when I was thinking back on how some fans were not happy about the Butler acquisition when it went down, I can only surmise that A’s fans have become conditioned to not having nice things for too long, and definitely not shopping for players at Nordstrom when there are plenty to be had at Ross (like Cody). And up until now this season has been Jekyll and Hyde for the A’s. Big shutouts and error-filled defeats. Great pitching and horrendous pitching. Win one, lose one. This is why you hear many of us in the media saying, “We don’t know who this A’s team is yet.” Well, there seems to be at least two things you can count on: Sonny Gray will pitch and Billy Butler will hit, knock on wood. Butler has been a bargain for $6.6 million so far. Long may he continue to rake.