OAKLAND — The turning of the page continued for the A’s on Sunday as they released veteran designated hitter Billy Butler, making the call to swallow the roughly $10 million owed to him next season.
Butler, addressing reporters roughly an hour after getting the news, said he sensed his status with the team might be in jeopardy given the way things have gone for Oakland in this woeful season.
A’s general manager David Forst and manager Bob Melvin both said the time had come to sever ties with Butler as the team has shifted its focus to playing younger players. They plan to bring up more position players as soon as Triple-A Nashville is finished in the playoffs, which would have squeezed Butler even more out of the playing equation.
“I knew it was a possibility because I wasn’t playing. It’s been like that all year,” the 30-year-old Butler said. “Now that Coco (Crisp)’s gone, I was the highest paid player. They’re not gonna let guys making that much just sit around and not make a move eventually. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that moves like this happen. Unfortunately the last two seasons, as a team it has not worked out the way we expected. Your higher paid players end up taking the brunt of that.”
The A’s entered Sunday’s game against Seattle 60-81 and mired in last place in the American League West. Butler’s nearly two full seasons with Oakland can only be viewed as a major disappointment given the lack of offensive production in light of the three-year $30 million contract he signed in November 2014.
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His addition from the Kansas City Royals was anticipated to help off-set some of the production lost when the A’s dealt Josh Donaldson to Toronto in that same winter. But Butler hit .258 with just 19 home runs and 96 RBI combined in 236 games with the A’s since the start of 2015.
But perhaps this is also an attempt to move on from a player who, over his time in green and gold, rubbed teammates and management the wrong way at times with his attitude and clubhouse demeanor.
There also was a well-publicized fight with teammate Danny Valencia that left Butler with a concussion. Both Forst and Melvin said that incident did not play a part in Butler being released.
“This was the right time to move on,” Forst said. “It’s something we’ve discussed. A lot of the younger players are here now, potentially more coming once Nashville’s done. The at-bats just were not there. It’s time for us to move our focus beyond.”
Nashville is tied 2-2 in its five-game Pacific Coast League playoff series with Oklahoma City, with Game 5 later Sunday afternoon. The A’s plan to promote at least a couple more position players to continue their evaluation with an eye toward next season. Two players who could make sense are first baseman/right fielder Matt Olson and third baseman Renato Nunez, who also has seen time in left field with the Sounds. The possible promotion of both could impact who sees time at DH as well, leaving Butler even less playing time.
Melvin also mentioned perhaps slotting Stephen Vogt as the DH more and giving Bruce Maxwell more time behind the plate.
“It’s uncomfortable for a guy like (Butler) to sit on the bench,” Melvin said. “… It was just time to move on. He wasn’t gonna be in our plans for next year. I give the organization credit for doing this now as opposed to later, which could make an uncomfortable situation even worse with a guy like him not getting at-bats.
“We wish him the best. It just never ended up being a great fit here.”
After hitting .251 with 15 homers and 65 RBI last season in regular playing time, Butler was relegated to mainly a platoon role this season. He hit .276 with four homers and 31 RBI in just 221 at-bats.
Regarding his overall tenure with the A’s, Butler said:
“Last year was definitely … it wasn’t a horrible season, but it wasn’t a great season either. It was definitely below what my expectations of myself are. This season, it’s hard to even judge that. I haven’t even had many opportunities to play. When I did, I thought I helped the team.”
The A’s are on the hook for the bulk of Butler’s $10 million salary next season. Any team that signs him would only be responsible for paying him a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum. Butler said he plans to spend time with his family in the short term, and assumes that any interest he generates isn’t likely to come until the offseason.