While the A’s were breaking down their three-time playoff roster in the winter of 2014, they also made one conspicuous free-agent signing, inking Billy Butler for three years and $30 million with hopes he could help anchor their lineup as their designated hitter.
Sunday, less than two full seasons into that contract, the A’s released Butler, effectively conceding its failure. The A’s are still obligated to pay Butler nearly $11.7 million next year, minus a pro-rated portion of the league minimum if another team signs him.
“Obviously that’s not something we were thinking about,” A’s general manager David Forst said Sunday. “This was the right time to move on. With a lot of younger players here now, potentially more coming once (Triple-A) Nashville is done, the at-bats just weren’t there. It’s time to move our focus beyond.”
Butler arrived in Oakland a career. 295 hitter, who once hit 29 home runs and drove in 107 runs in a season for the Royals. In just under two seasons with the A’s, Butler hit .258 with 19 homers and 96 RBIs. His playing time diminished this season to the point where he had started just three games since Aug. 16.
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“He wasn’t going to be in the plans for next year,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Give the organization credit for doing this now rather than later and making what could be an uncomfortable situation even worse with a guy like him not getting any at-bats.”
Melvin said “it just never ended up being a great fit here” with Butler. The 30-year-old batted a career-low .251 last season and chafed this year when the A’s made him a platoon player, playing primarily against left-handed pitching. Butler had appeared in at least 151 games the last seven seasons.
Butler was also involved last month in a clubhouse altercation with teammate Danny Valencia that left Butler on the concussion disabled list. However, Forst, Melvin and Butler all said Sunday that incident did not factor into Butler’s release.
The move comes shortly after the A’s traded veteran Coco Crisp to Cleveland. Butler said it did not come as a huge surprise.
“I knew it was a possibility ’cause I wasn’t playing and it’s been like that all year,” said Butler. “They’re the ones that make the decisions. Now that Coco’s gone, I was the highest paid player. You’re not going to let guys making that much just sit around and not make a move eventually.”
Butler said he was “absolutely not” happy with his reduced role and that he felt he was “pigeon-holed” playing mostly against left-handers. He said he thought his 2015 season “wasn’t a horrible season, but it wasn’t a great season either,” and that this year he “thought I helped the team whenever I got in there, especially with the role I was given.”
Asked why things hadn’t worked out for Butler in Oakland, Forst said: “I wish I knew the answer to that question. Obviously he didn’t perform last year up to what we expected, and then coming into this year it was tough for him to ever get going.
“We made some moves last season that took away from some of his opportunities this year,” Forst said. “And there were times, frankly right before the incident between him and Danny, when he was swinging the bat well. He obviously still has ability. He just wasn’t going to be a fit here.”
While Butler said he had not asked for a release, he said he thinks the move “gives me the chance to find a correct team.” He said he would listen if teams contact him before the end of this season but intended first to spend time with his family.
Melvin said the A’s will use different players in the DH role, including giving Stephen Vogt more starts there and using backup Bruce Maxwell at catcher. The A’s will also have a few more players arriving from the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, who are currently in the PCL playoffs.