They’re still headed for 90-plus losses in a disappointing season, but the Royals have quietly climbed out of last place in the AL Central by going 12-7 in September and Billy Butler has solidified his standing as one of baseball’s best young hitters by going 24-for-70 (.343) with 12 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs, and a 12/12 K/BB ratio this month.
Butler destroyed minor-league pitching after the Royals made him the 14th pick in the 2004 draft, batting at least .300 at every level and .336/.416/.561 in 397 games overall. Now he’s beating up big-league pitching at the age of 23, hitting .314/.381/.537 with 10 homers, 22 doubles, and 47 RBIs in 61 games since the All-Star break.
Plenty of young hitters find success in the majors, but what makes “Bam Bam” unique is that he combines a gaudy batting average with lots of power, solid plate discipline, and a low strikeout rate, all of which bode well for his continued growth as an offensive force. With two weeks remaining he’s hitting an even .300 with 68 extra-base hits, 52 walks, and 93 strikeouts in 620 plate appearances spread over 147 games.
If he can maintain a .300 batting average for the next dozen games while smacking two extra-base hits and avoiding more than six strikeouts, Butler would join some pretty exclusive company. Here’s a complete list of all the 23-year-old hitters in baseball history who’ve managed to bat .300 with at least 70 extra-base hits and 50 walks while striking out fewer than 100 times:
Ted Williams Joe DiMaggio Frank Robinson
Hank Aaron Stan Musial Cal Ripken Jr.
Lou Gehrig Albert Pujols Fred Lynn
Willie Mays Mel Ott Harlond Clift
Mickey Mantle Hank Greenberg Hanley Ramirez
Ken Griffey Jr. Duke Snider
Not a bad set of names, huh? Butler trying to become the 18th member of that club and Zack Greinke going for the Cy Young award will at least give Royals fans something to root for down the stretch. General manager Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman haven’t inspired a whole lot of confidence in Kansas City, but having the 23-year-old Butler and 25-year-old Greinke as long-term building blocks is a pretty nice start.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.