Once upon a time, Billy Butler was part of an up and coming, young Kansas City Royals team, a piece of the nucleus that included Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez. That all ended after the 2014 season, when they chose to decline his 2015 option, making him a free agent. The Oakland Athletics decided to pick him up on a 3-year, $30M pact; this week, his brief tenure with the A’s came to an end, as Oakland released Butler on Sunday, September 11th.
Upon the news of New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge’s oblique injury, which likely will keep the muscle-clad righty out of commission through the end of the regular season, the team signed Butler to a Major League contract. They signed the right-handed first baseman/designated hitter to a league minimum salary of approximately $50,000.
This move makes sense for a few reasons:
1. As was pointed out by Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network broadcaster, Michael Kay, including Thursday night’s game against the Red Sox, the Yankees will be facing a total of 8 left-handed starters during their current 10-game road trip. Against southpaws, Butler is batting .267 on the season, with a .688 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage), while Brian McCann, who had been handling the majority of the DH duties since the release of Alex Rodriguez, has fared significantly worse, with a .203 average and .662 OPS.
For Butler’s career, he’s a .300 hitter with an OPS of .872. The Yankees need all the help they can get against lefty pitching during the most crucial stretch of games they’ve faced all year – against the Red Sox, Orioles, and Blue Jays (all three teams they are trailing in the division, and Wild Card race.) As the Yankees demonstrated against the Dodgers, lefties can severely hamper a lefty-laden lineup.
2. The Yankees have absolutely NOTHING to lose by signing Butler. They can either trade him in the off-season, keep him onboard to bring to Spring Training in 2017, or release him and only waste the $50,000 they spent to acquire him.
3. If the Yankees manage to make it into the playoffs, although four losses in the last five games significantly diminished those chances, they’ll have an option to back up Mark Teixeira at 1st base. Are the Yankees prepared to play October baseball, particularly a 1-game playoff if they’re a Wild Card team, with Tyler Austin? No offense to Tyler, but he’s been a strikeout machine lately. Could Billy Butler do any worse? In his first game as a Yankee, he drove in two of the team’s five runs, after a nine-day absence from the lineup card.
As a defensive player, Butler has been slightly below league average regarding range factor, with a career rating of 8.85, compared to a league average of 9.19. His career fielding percentage stands at .992, ranking basically as league average. To put this into the proper perspective, Teixeira, a Gold Glove caliber fielder, has a career mark of a .997 fielding percentage, and 9.01 range factor per nine innings. As you can see, while Butler isn’t Teixeira, he’s not a bad knockoff.
No one knows at this point what the future holds for the man affectionately known as “County Breakfast,” but Brian Cashman has a knack for picking up spare parts as reinforcements to help out when needed. As such, my grade on this pickup currently stands at a B.