A's overpaid for Billy Butler because of lack of other spending options

BY Chris Bahr • November 19, 2014

When I was just a young lad, a quarter would get you a candy bar and $10 million would get you an entire baseball franchise. Granted, I was a young lad quite some time ago. Now a candy bar'€™s like a dollar, and all $10 million gets you is one season of Billy Butler.

Wait, really? Even today, that'€™s all $10 million gets you? Well, that'€™s not all. Last year, $10 million got you -- and by you, I mean the Oakland Athletics -- 40 1/3 innings (and 33 runs!) from Jim Johnson. This year, $10 million gets you Billy Butler. Same for 2016 and '€™17, as the A'€™s reportedly are signing Butler for three years and $30 million.

The easy and obvious reaction is that three years and $30 million is excessive.

Because, you know, it is. Butler has zero defensive value and zero baserunning value, and he wasn'€™t even a league-average hitter last season. Still, Butler'€™s 2014 was quite probably a negative outlier. In 2015, he'€™ll probably hit something like this career marks, which would be worth around $10 million (in a vacuum, of course). Butler turns 29 next spring so we can'€™t assume that he'€™ll get any better ... but we also know that salary inflation will (roughly) balance his expected (slight) decline.

Actually, Butler figures to be worth around $8 million next season, but that's close enough to $10 million to be hardly worth mentioning.

The interesting question, then, isn'€™t what Billy Butler'€™s worth. We might as well just assume that he'€™s worth (roughly) what the A'€™s are paying him. The interesting question is this: Could the A'€™s really not find a better way to spend $30 million?

That'€™s the question I always have trouble answering when a relatively poor team spends the going rate for a player who doesn'€™t actually seem all that good. I thought you were supposed to play those guys when they'€™re young and cheap, and let the Yankees pay for their decline phase.

But apparently this is just the sort of thing that happens when a relatively poor team does have money to spend, but doesn'€™t have any good young players worth locking up with a long-term contract.

Seriously. I was just looking at the A'€™s roster. Sonny Gray'€™s 25. He won'€™t be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. And he'€™s essentially the only Athletic in whom you would even consider making a large investment. Which leaves the A'€™s with not a great number of options, spending-wise. As if high-quality free agents weren't scarce enough, now so many teams do lock up their young players with long-term deals that if you want to spend, you almost have to overspend. So the A'€™s have overspent, first on Johnson last season and now on Butler for three seasons. And it'€™s hard to blame them, once you realize they've essentially run out of better ways to spend their money.