KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Can Billy Butler do even more offensively for the Royals?
That’s the question that always seems to come up when fans discuss the skill level and contributions of Butler, the Royals’ lone All-Star from 2012 who also on Wednesday received the Les Milgram Royals Player of the Year award.
It’s a tricky question, of course, considering what a force Butler already has become. He hit .313 last season with 29 homers and 107 RBIs, and now has won the player-of-the-year award three times in the last four years.
But, naturally, fans wonder if Butler can do more. He thinks he can.
“I’m not going to complain if I put up the same numbers I had last season,” Butler said in a teleconference call. “But I think I can get better. I’m already starting to work (in the cage) for next season.
“I certainly am going to try (to do even more).”
Manager Ned Yost made it evident at season’s end that he wanted more home runs and more production from his lineup next season, going as far as firing hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and bringing in new hitting coach Jack Maloof, who also will have an assistant in Andre David.
The goal of delivering more home runs is not asking too much, Butler said.
“I’m definitely going into it with an open mind,” he said. “I’m going to listen to Jack and Andre. Why wouldn’t I have an open mind? I don’t even really know what my full potential is. I don’t think anyone on this team does.
“So if there’s some way they can help make us more productive, I’m all for it. It’s not just home runs – we just need to score more runs.”
The danger in trying to hit more home runs might be that Butler will have to shave a few points off his.300 career average. Butler doesn’t necessarily agree.
“Well, the funny part about that is last year I tried to really drive the ball,” Butler said, “and my average actually went up. So I’m not concerned about that. And I’ll do whatever it takes to get more runs home.
“We all will. Now, I know I struck out more times this year but that’s going to happen, especially if you’re going to try to hit more home runs – you’re going to miss more.”
Butler’s career-high 29 homers last season has some people wondering if he’s a threat to break the club record of 36 held by Steve Balboni.
Of course, Kauffman Stadium doesn’t give up homers easily.
“Home runs are directly related to the ballpark and some other factors,” he said. “Hitting 36 homers in 1985 was an amazing feat for him. It’ll be tough to beat. I’m not striving for that but it can happen.”
Butler’s increase in home-run production also was evident in the clutch – he was tied for third in baseball with 10 home runs in the eighth inning or later in games.
“The good hitters always seem to raise their game late in the game,” Butler said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to be that guy. That’s what they pay me to do. That’s what I should be doing to help us win games.”
And winning games is the ultimate goal for Butler, who firmly believes the Royals are on the cusp of becoming a contender.
The recent trade for Angels right-hander Ervin Santana was a terrific step in the right direction, Butler said, even if he has had his issues with Santana in the past.
Butler’s history with Santana began in 2010 when he was hit twice in the same game by Santana – the second hit by pitch drew an angry glare from Butler. The two seemed to have had a somewhat frosty relationship since.
“I know what you’re saying,” Butler said. “But I’m glad we have him. He’s a guy who likes to pitch inside and I respect that.
“The thing is, it doesn’t matter who hits me – I’m not going to like it very much.”
Santana indicated last week there were no hard feelings with Butler.
“There’s nothing there because, after that, the next year I saw him in Kansas City and I said hello to him and he said hello back to me and there was nothing — no problems,” Santana said. “He knows I wasn’t doing it purposely. I like to pitch inside and he knows it.”
“That’s the way he pitches,” Butler said. “I know he’s got electric stuff. I’ve had some good days against him and some bad days (8-for-31, five home runs). But he’s got ace stuff. He’s got one of the best sliders in the game and I’ve been around a little now, so that says something.
“It’s great to have him. I don’t know if it’s the key component to our off-season because the off-season isn’t over yet. We probably got more moves to make. I’ll let you know next March. I’m anxious for it to get here.”