Many people wondered what the Oakland Athletics were thinking a year ago when they handed a declining hitter a huge contract to be their designated hitter, and the move itself seemed very out of character with the A’s modus operandi. Since the Oakland club experienced such a disastrous 2015 season on other fronts, the problem of the DH slid somewhat under the radar—but that can’t last much longer.
The first part of looking forward to 2016 is assessing the season that just ended, and we’re now going over the team’s results, position by position. That’s 11 articles in the 11 days, finishing before the end of the World Series and by the opening of free agency. By Halloween, you’ll know exactly what the A’s need for 2016. We promise. We’ve looked at the infield already last week, and now we move on to the outfield this week.
Remember, Billy Beane is no longer the Oakland general manager: That role is now David Forst’s to fill, as Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations at the end of the team’s worst season since 1997. It will be up to Forst now to see if he can get the A’s that elusive 10th World Series title that has haunted the team over its last 10 playoffs appearances since the 1989 MLB championship.
The A’s paid at least $6.67 million for the 12th-best designated hitting corps in the American League based on runs scored, and even though individually Billy Butler was the fifth-best DH in the AL based on runs scored, that’s not saying much since few teams used a single player enough in the role to qualify for the batting title.
When you switch these rankings to OPS, the A’s as a whole DH corps jump up to 11th in the AL, while Butler alone falls to the bottom of the AL rankings. Oh, and did we mention Butler’s WAR was actually negative? Yep, that’s what $6.67 million bought Oakland in 2015: worse than a replacement-level DH.
How many different ways can we say that Butler is a disaster for the A’s? What makes it even worse is that Oakland is on the hook for $23.33 million more with Butler’s contract. This probably goes down as the single-dumbest move Beane made as GM of the Athletics franchise.
Butler hit .251 with 15 home runs and 66 RBI in 2015, which was a slight improvement over his 2014 numbers with the Kansas City Royals. However, get this: Butler’s second half OPS (.742) was 50 points higher than during the first half of the season. So even his final numbers were padded by meaningless success once the A’s were basically out of contention already.
Forst would be a miracle worker if he can somehow dump this contract—and the money owed to Coco Crisp in 2016—on some other team ASAP. Otherwise, the A’s are going to be crippled at DH through 2017 with a slow, fat guy who can’t really hit for beans any more.
Strategically, Manager Bob Melvin likes position flexibility and being able to use the DH slot to rest his regular fielders every once in awhile. That strategy worked very well in 2012-14, but Melvin was handcuffed by Butler in 2015—and will remain so until Country Breakfast and his fat salary are off the books in Oakland.