The Oakland A’s are a fascinating team. In Charlie Finley they had one of the most colorful owners in sports history. Finley did everything from relocating the team to changing the name from Athletics to A’s to creating the unique white, green, and gold uniform look. The A’s have been managed by Tony La Russa. Underfunded, they took baseball research as far as they could. They became forever tied with Moneyball and Billy Beane’s creative roster construction.
The A’s aren’t afraid to make the big move whether it’s trading one of the best shortstop prospects—Addison Russell—for Jeff Samardzija. Or, a breakout star in Josh Donaldson the year before he wins an MVP award.
Which is why signing Billy Butler seemed so strange. Entering 2015, Butler had been trending downwards in nearly every metric. Additionally, he set careers lows in batting average and on-base percentage. And, he was far from his peak in doubles and home runs. Yet the Oakland A’s jumped on the then-free agent Royals DH with a three-year, $30 million deal. From 2009 to 2013 Butler averaged .302/.372/.469 with 40 doubles and 20 home runs per year. If the A’s could get that guy, a player just one season removed from the one they signed, things would be good.
Like all GMs and organizations, Billy Beane and the A’s don’t always pull the rabbit out of the hat. Although $10 million for a guy coming off his age 28 season seemed like an opportunity for a bargain or at least a chance to buy low. Instead, the DH fell to a .258 average and .325 OBP while slugging under .400. In his 236 games with the A’s, he hit a total of 19 home runs and 44 doubles.
At that point, paying a DH who can’t hit no longer made sense. Country Breakfast didn’t come with a side of bacon and two pieces of toast, he was just runny eggs. After Butler was released, the Yankees picked him up. Having shed veterans at the deadline, New York added one as part of their surprising September playoff push. In four games he has four hits. So far so good—for a minuscule sample size.
As the saying goes, “the rest of the story” awaits.
On August 22, Billy Butler and teammate Danny Valencia got into a heated argument that turned into a physical confrontation. This wasn’t just a brief bit of workplace arguing—Butler missed time after the incident. The cause? Butler had an issue with Valencia using off-brand spikes.
Valencia came to the A’s in 2015 when the Blue Jays placed a guy hitting .296/.331/.506 on waivers because that team was so loaded on offense he was literally expendable. While his numbers have regressed a bit, Valencia was worth 1.7 Baseball Reference WAR in 2015 and has been worth 1.6 WAR so far in 2016, putting his career revival solidly into a second year.
For Valencia, it puts a damper on his renaissance. Earlier this month he was expected to be released as well, joining Butler on the outcast block. His debut with the Twins in 2010 saw him finish third in Rookie of the Year voting (losing to Neftalí Feliz) placing just ahead of Wade Davis. Since then he’s been on the Red Sox, Orioles, Royals, Blue Jays, and now, the Oakland A’s.
What’s next for Valencia is unknown. Moreover, Billy Butler, as a DH-only player who has misplaced his bat, may not make it to the Yankees 2017 roster. But someone scrounging for players might take a look at either guy and wonder what value remains.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference