This Offseason’s Mariner Inevitability
If you’ve ever read any of my posts before, you know I don’t feel certain about very many things. It’s probably one of the things I most believe in — essential uncertainty, I mean. I don’t know what I want to fix myself for lunch. I don’t know if I should go to the gym or go for a jog. At this present moment I’m not entirely certain where I put my car keys. So when I get a really strong gut feeling, or something along those lines, I pay attention to it, because those moments are unusual. And the gut feeling I’ve developed that’s grown impossible to ignore is that the Mariners are a couple months away from signing Billy Butler to an eight-figure contract.
My track record with these things is spotless. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Barry Zito. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Corey Koskie. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would get Jeff Conine. I thought it was inevitable the Giants would sign Bronson Arroyo. I thought it was inevitable the Mariners would sign Nelson Cruz. Remember that? None of those things happened, which tells you all you need to know about my feelings. But they all seemed so obvious, until something very different happened. Butler seems so obvious. We’ll see if something very different happens. But it’s obvious.
Point No. 1: the Mariners want a right-handed hitter. They’re prepared to raise payroll, and they want someone to slot in between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and they have an opening at DH on account of Kendrys Morales was several piles of crap and he’s a free agent anyway. Butler has plenty of experience batting cleanup in Kansas City, that being his most common placement the last handful of years.
Point No. 2: I have to believe Butler’s going to become a free agent. People have loved him in KC, and he’s loved KC back, but he’s got a 2015 club option worth $12.5 million, and he just slugged .379. The only guy the Royals paid more than that this year was James Shields, and he made just an extra $1 million to be the staff ace. From the sounds of things, Butler would be willing to negotiate a smaller deal to stick around. The Royals might raise payroll because of their success and developing playoff run. But they’re going to remain a lower-budget operation, and they can’t afford to spend that much money on an aging and potentially declining DH, and as much as Butler says he loves it there, he’d probably leave for a multi-year guarantee.
Point No. 3: this should be obvious, but the Mariners have been all over Butler in the past. The Mariners showed “strong interest” early in the 2012 offseason. The Mariners were said to “covet” Butler in November 2013. This past July, even with Butler’s numbers down and the Royals contending, the Mariners checked in as they searched the world for offensive upgrades. The Royals coveted Yuniesky Betancourt, and eventually got him. The Mariners, with this front offices, have coveted Billy Butler, and it feels like they’ll eventually get him. He’s still the same kind of player, if maybe a worse version, and while Zduriencik might be turned off from having acquired Kendrys Morales when his numbers were down, that’s one case, and he sat out for several months, and Butler was a little hotter at the plate down the stretch.
So the Mariners have money and an opening. A player they’ve loved in the past is likely to become a free agent, which means they don’t have to negotiate any kind of prospect exchange. The Mariners aren’t the only team that’s liked Butler, but they’re forever looking for a reliable DH and Butler won’t be considered by half the teams in baseball, at a minimum. Some teams already have DH candidates. Some teams will try like hell to sign Victor Martinez, and some teams will be scared off by Butler’s statistical drop-off. The Mariners might be too in love, and while Martinez would obviously be the bigger upgrade, he’s probably going to get a bigger contract than the Mariners want to hand someone his age. Martinez has his own risks, and that market will dwarf Butler’s.
I don’t know the money, and I don’t know how much money I’d be comfortable with. Not a lot, but I’m conservative, especially with designated hitters who can’t field or run or apparently hit a lot of the time. Butler last season started swinging more than ever, in the zone and out of it, and that means fewer walks, and he’s also hit for a lot less power than he did in his peak. When you put it that way he’s a disaster, but he’s somehow still not even close to 29 years old, and there still is very real power in his bat. It just hasn’t manifested very often. Last season Butler was a below-replacement player, but the five seasons previous he was an average contributor, so, what do you do with that?
I think what the Mariners do with that is sign the guy and see what happens. Jack Zduriencik has loved Butler in the recent past, and the more distant past, and he’s presumably about to become available. Lloyd McClendon saw a lot of Butler in the AL Central, and he saw the least of Butler in Butler’s worst season. All the pieces fit just so, and just because Butler isn’t yet thinking about his offseason doesn’t mean the Mariners aren’t. It’s the most obvious move I can think of. It’s a splash without taking up all of the team’s remaining resources, and it’s something the organization would feel really comfortable with, even though Butler does not have a very comfortable profile. There’s a reasonable gamble on Butler, and there’s a too-expensive gamble on Butler, and a year ago I would’ve assumed the Mariners would pay way too much. Now they’ve earned more benefit of the doubt, but Butler still seems like the easiest thing to predict on some terms.
Billy Butler will be a Mariner, just like Nelson Cruz was going to be a Mariner. I don’t feel certain about things very often. This one’s hardly even a gut feeling. This one makes me feel like I’m a man from the future. So, Mariners fans, get ready for a DH nicknamed after a breakfast. How many times could a man possibly be wrong, you know?