Are the Orioles the Answer to the Royals Prayers?

The Royals hunt for a quality young starting pitcher is the worst kept secret in baseball. At various times over the last few weeks, the team has been rumored to be considering trading Wil Myers, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler in an effort to obtain a hiågh quality arm, preferably one with multiple years of team control and a bright future. Over the last few days, the rumors have shifted from primarily being about Myers to focusing more on Butler, with both the Mariners and Royals identified as potential fits based on their needs for offense and a potential ability to part with young pitching.

Personally, I don’t see much of a fit with Seattle, a team that already has a young right-handed DH in Jesus Montero. The Mariners also don’t really have the kind of Major League ready young arms that Kansas City is looking for in exchange, so while the theory might work, the teams don’t really line up in terms of exchangeable assets.

The Orioles are another story. After non-tendering Mark Reynolds, their best DH options on the roster are currently Wilson Betemit and Steve Pearce – not exactly the kind of firepower that a team with playoff aspirations is looking for. In terms of need at DH and desire to add an impact bat, there probably isn’t a better fit for Butler than Baltimore.

The question is more along the lines of what would go back to Kansas City in return. The Orioles have a significant amount of talented young pitchers, but they don’t have the kind of established Major League performer that the Royals seem to favor. Their best young arms — Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman — are still considered prospects, and their Major League young arms all come with significant question marks. However, given Butler’s actual trade value, perhaps that kind of unestablished big league arm is actually a worthy return.

Butler is a fine player and one of the better hitters in baseball, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is strictly a hitter. Butler’s made a grand total of 31 starts in the field over the last two years, and he’s only getting slower as he ages. He’s also an atrocious baserunner, coming in at -20 runs over the last three years, ranking better than only Ryan Howard and Paul Konerko who each come in at -22 runs in baserunning. David Ortiz and Prince Fielder have been equally as poor at advancing on opportunities, and together, they represent the Five Amigos of Slowness.

And we can’t just pretend that baserunning doesn’t matter. Butler has been on second base when a single was hit 107 times in his career, and he’s only scored 37% of the time – the league average last year was 58%. Butler has only gone first to third on a single 25 times in his career – Mike Trout did it 28 times last year alone. We can’t just look at the rate at which Butler gets on base and ignore the fact that fewer of those opportunities lead to runs. Yes, his 140 wRC+ in 2012 was pretty terrific, but that translates into about 33 runs above a league average hitter, and he gave back six of those runs simply by virtue of his lack of speed. When you adjust for baserunning, Butler’s total offensive performance was worth 28 runs more than an average hitter per 600 plate appearances.

The other MLB hitters between +25 and +30 in R/600 were Alex Gordon (+25), Adam Jones (+25), Alex Rios (+26), Yoenis Cespedes (+26), Shin-Soo Choo (+26), Jason Heyward (+26), Austin Jackson (+26), Torii Hunter (+27), Ben Zobrist (+28), and Aaron Hill (+30). All of them had great years, but you’ll note that every player on that list plays the field, and in many cases, they add real value on defense. How many of these guys would you be that excited to add if they were bat-only players? Do you view any of them as big time run producers? Would you be interested in paying a premium price to have them DH for your team?

In reality, Butler’s lack of speed and defensive value make him a +2 to +3 win player, depending on how much of his power spike he retains going forward and whether he can continue to play every game as he gets older and his body wears down. There’s certainly value in a durable +2 to +3 win player headed into his age-27 season, but given that he’s already signed through 2015 for a total of around $30 million — a figure that goes up if he’s traded and could increase based on his performance incentives — he’s not the kind of underpriced core player that should command a premium return.

And that’s why I think the Royals should strongly consider a deal with Baltimore. On the surface, Chris Tillman might seem to be an underwhelming return for an All-Star, but if you see Butler as a +3 win player on a contract that pays him like a +2 win player, then a deal built around Butler-for-Tillman isn’t so nutty. Tillman shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of future ace, but his velocity spike and improvement last year show that he has the chance to turn into a +2 win starter in the near future, and he’s set to make the league minimum for the next two years, then has three arbitration eligible seasons before he hits free agency.

Swapping Butler for Tillman gives the Royals an interesting young addition to their rotation while simultaneously freeing up $8 million in 2013 payroll and $20 to $22 million in future commitments, which could then be spent on a hitter to replace the newly departed DH. For instance, the Royals could reallocate Butler’s money to a guy like Adam LaRoche and essentially have both LaRoche and Tillman for something close to the same price that they could have just Butler.

The Royals shouldn’t just be looking to dump Billy Butler, but the reality is that moving his salary off the books gives them the financial flexibility to add another Major League player who can help them in 2013. The player they get in return doesn’t have to replace Butler by himself, and the Royals could likely get a better overall value from turning Butler into a league minimum pitcher and then using the saved money to replace Butler’s bat with a worse-but-still useful 1B/DH type.

And, unfortunately for Kansas City, the market for Butler is unlikely to ever be all that fierce. As a DH only, there will always be a limited market for his services, and he’s only getting more expensive in the future. Rather than giving up a piece like Myers, who could fill a big hole on the roster for years to come, moving Butler for a pitcher like Tillman could be the Royals best way to add a young arm to the rotation without sacrificing the organization’s future.

Print This Post

Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

42 Responses to “Are the Orioles the Answer to the Royals Prayers?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. marlins12 says:

    The Marlins have an unhappy Ricky Nolasco on their team. The answer to the Royals problems – another mediocre SP; Dayton Moore clearly loves those.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. O's Fan says:

    This Orioles fan isn’t excited about sending Tillman for Butler. Tillman was as good as any Orioles starter last season, and one of four current rotation members (Hammel, Chen, Gonzalez, Tillman).

    Betemit/Pearce isn’t great, obviously, but check out their righty/lefty splits: Betemit is around .850 vs RHP and Pearce is around .800 vs LHP. Neither is a burner, but they don’t clog the basepaths like Butler, and both can play the field, if not well, at least adequately.

    Butler also costs money, and the Orioles appear to be cash-strapped, to some degree. Is the upgrade really worth giving up Tillman? I dunno. I’d probably rather see Tillman kept and the money used towards signing a pitcher like Sanchez.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Travis L says:

      Betemit has a career 824 OPS vs lefties, Pearce has a career 807 OPS vs righties. Given Betemit’s age and accounting for the DH penalty of 5-10%, I’d estimate their “true talent” platoon OPS around 780-800.

      In wOBA, that’s around 340-350. Last year, Butler had a 366 wOBA and owns a career 349 number.

      I agree with you that isn’t a huge difference in value. However, I also think Butler is much more likely to hit his numbers than the platoon.

      FWIW, Tillman significantly overperformed his FIP/xFIP (2.93 ERA, 4.25FIP, 4.27xFIP) and is pretty mediocre in K/BB.

      Interesting exercise. I originally agreed with the author, but now I’m not so sure Butler would be valuable to the Orioles just based on his salary (ignoring subjective opinions of Tillman). I kind of think that was Dave’s point — Butler has less value than KC fans think, and an “underwhelming” return like Tillman might be the best KC does.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • tbr says:

        This KC fan knows very well what Butler’s value is, thank you very much, and I am not alone. There are many of us who feel that a Butler trade would be a very good idea.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brent says:

      Isn’t Britton in the plans for the rotation too?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Kenan says:

    Good article, Dave. I think you’re selling Tillman a little short. He looked really good at times this year and overcame a bout of flu and an minor ulnar nerve issue to provide a very nice half season in the bigs. If I’m the Orioles, I’d rather deal Hammel, Matusz, Britton, or Arrieta, but it may be Tillman or bust for the Royals.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Travis L says:

      Alternate explanation: Tillman overperformed his peripherals, and got lucky. 86IP sample size, below average K/9, 4.25 FIP 4.34 xFIP.

      He did manage to improve his walk rate (3.5 career, 2.5 last year), but that whiff rate is worrisome.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. BillWallace says:

    I think Butler has roughly $15-17M in surplus value on that contract. What is Tillman worth?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BillWallace says:

      According to cots and spotrac Tillman only has 2013 as a min salary player and he’s arb in 2014-16. That said, it seems like he should be projected as at least a 2 win player going forward, imo making him a more valuable piece than Butler… somewhere in the $20-25M range. Unless you’re going to ding his value for injury concerns over and above the normal pitcher amount.

      I think the Royals might need to add a bit more… but it does have the outline of a seemingly solid trade. But what about the PR hit for KC? And do they have a replacement for Butler? Otherwise it’s just shifting chairs for them.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • edgar4evar says:

        Given the extra risk with any pitcher, and how little injury risk there is for a DH, this deal looks ok to me from the O’s perspective. But wouldn’t the O’s be better off just signing LaRoche themselves?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • tbr says:

        I’m not convinced there’s a huge PR hit there. There are way more Royals fans who would welcome a Butler trade than you might think. KC has always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with him. Love the way he hits; hate the way he does everything else.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • That Guy says:

        @ edgar4evar My thoughts exactly.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Justin Smoaked Cheese says:

        Good job answering your own question.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. SF 55 for life says:

    I think this trade is significantly better for the Royals.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Bobby A says:

    Excellent article. Trading for Chris Tillman sounds like a worthwhile gamble, but right now, I’d lean more towards the trade-for-Nolasco camp.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • AK7007 says:

      What is the cost likely to be? The Marlins are going to want prospects in return – who is expendable when you consider that all the projected 2013 rotation arms are basically short term solutions? Tillman’s length of team control at least helps that some.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • d_i says:

      Nolaso likely has next to nil trade value at this point.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. AK7007 says:

    Excellent analysis, Dave. All we can hope is that Dayton Moore doesn’t let his own career screw over the Royals for years to come by dumping Meyers unnecessarily. If they really can get Butler for Tillman done, cheap bats like Hafner aren’t that bad a substitute in the short term while not really sacrificing the long-term health of the ballclub.

    If Glass wasn’t such a Loria impersonator, somebody like swisher would be viable too, even if they have to pay the “loosing/non-contending team” premium.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Chris says:

    Of course, they wouldn’t sign a FA DH to replace Butler. They would probably give that spot to Wil Myers so that they can keep Frenchy in right. That’s probably an 4 wins that ride out of town with Butler

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. VivaAyala says:

    The “Five Amigos of Slowness?” I’d watch that movie, but God help their baserunning coach(es).

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pumpkin says:

      Ha…that would be the most boring movie ever. 5 guys sit around Prince Fielder’s apartment and eat bag after bag of mozzarella sticks for 3 hours. Then the movie ends with a dance number where at least one of them has a heart attack from over-exercising…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David says:

      I would have lost significant money wagering that Adrian Gonzalez was part of that illustrious group. I guess in 2010, the Padres managed such a small number of hits with AGon on base, his baserunning came in at “only” below average.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Eminor3rd says:

    But if this happened, the Royals wouldn’t sign Adam LaRoche — they would sign Delmon Young, and you know it.

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. That Guy says:

    Over the last few days, the rumors have shifted from primarily being about Myers to focusing more on Butler, with both the Mariners and Royals Orioles identified as potential fits based on their needs for offense and a potential ability to part with young pitching.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. shthar says:

    “How many of these guys would you be that excited to add if they were bat-only players? ”

    If I was the royals or the orioles?

    All of them!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. KS says:

    Geez, when you put it like that, I’m not all that crazy about getting Butler, and especially not for Tillman.

    As another comment suggested, I’d rather see the O’s sign LaRoche, but for some reason–presumably money–they don’t seem interested.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Gerry says:

    If the Royals could trade Butler and reassign the money for Laroche, the Orioles could just sign Laroche not pay anymore than they would have for Butler, plus they get to hold onto Tillman. I don’t see why they dont just resign Reynolds and get about 50 point of OPS is reduced offense coupled with someone who can play respectable first base defense.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Jim Lahey says:

    Would hope to get a more valuable pitcher than Tillman… I feel Butler is somewhat undervalued by this. Maybe a 3 way deal that net them Danks or something would be better

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pumpkin says:

      John Danks? The guy who keeps getting progressively worse every year? And somewhow is set to make 14.5 million in each of the next 4 years? That would be a horrible trade.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. I openly wonder what the best deal the Royals would do for Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Paul says:

    I only watched one game and it was right before that great run at the end of the season, but what I saw from Tillman really surprised me. His command is still a really big concern. A small sample in September isn’t enough to convince me that he’s a #3 even at this point with that issue, his Achilles Heel since he was drafted, seems to still be a major issue (note that that start was against the hacktastic Royals who will swing at anything).

    While I agree with another commenter that the PR hit will be minimal on a Butler trade, minus a few hundred Twitter addicts (because the number of Royals fans who actually care just keeps getting smaller), Dayton Moore does need to be able to spin a narrative. Not only is Hammel a legit #3, he’s not tied up long-term so they can make the argument that next year they will have flexibility to add even more better pitchers! And then there is Hammel’s no hitter. The media in this town are such morons that they’d easily get two days of spin out of having two guys in the rotation who have thrown a no-hitter – not to mention a likely “no-hitter” watch or something in the paper.

    I would bet on something like Hammel, Schoop (Dayton Moore can’t resist an international signee SS who swings at everything), and a developmental pitcher with a big arm for Butler, with perhaps Christian Colon or some other player undervalued by the Royals going back to Balto.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • GoToWarMissAgnes says:

      Lol. The problem with that, of course, is that the Orioles have to agree to the trade as well. Teams that fancy themselves playoff contenders don’t typically trade their top starter and top positional prospect for a DH who makes only slightly less than market value.

      Also, Hammel didn’t throw a no hitter.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Maddog55 says:

    Interesting, but why would the O’s do that when they could just sign La Roche themselves?

    Vote -1 Vote +1