Butler improves DH slot, adds depth for A's
New acquisition expected to play first base regularly vs. lefties, provides bat in heart of lineup
This is the fifth installment of a seven-part Around the Horn series that features a position-by-position look at the A's projected starters and backup options heading into the 2015 season. Up next: Designated hitter and bench.
OAKLAND -- It was at the beginning of what has since been the dizziest of offseasons for the A's when they went out and got themselves a right-handed bat to lengthen a completely new-look lineup.
The signing of Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million deal was perhaps befuddling at the time, considering the A's have never given big money to a full-time designated hitter. But they never saw him as just that.
Butler is expected to routinely play first base against left-handers, providing manager Bob Melvin with yet another player who can contribute at multiple positions. Most importantly, he gives him a middle-of-the-order bat.
The A's were lacking in those following Yoenis Cespedes' departure.
"He's a professional hitter," Melvin said when Butler signed. "You look at our needs, and one of the biggest needs we had was a power right-handed bat to hit in the middle of the order. In typical Billy Beane fashion, this is a guy he identified early, goes after him hard because this is a guy we want, and gets him."
"We felt there were a number of teams out there looking for bats that might have had him somewhere on their depth charts, and once one or two guys came off the board, there was going to be more intensity in terms of the pursuit," Beane said. "We were very aggressive right from the start and had pretty rapid negotiations."
There's no doubt Butler will see the majority of DH at-bats, with Melvin alternating several of his other players -- notably the injury-prone Coco Crisp -- in that spot, too. Last year, Melvin utilized 14 players at DH, with Alberto Callaspo leading the club with 39 appearances, and they combined to hit just .215. Only Seattle's designated hitters had a worse mark, at .190.
Even in a down year, Butler managed to hit .271 -- including .321 against lefties -- with a .323 on-base percentage in 2014, and he will be three years removed from an All-Star campaign in which he totaled 29 home runs and 107 RBIs while finishing with a .313 average.
Butler's also still just entering his age-29 season, giving the A's reason to believe he's still young enough to repeat his All-Star season.
Butler, of course, was not brought in to warm the bench in a platoon, but the A's at least do have the roster flexibility to let him sit against tough right-handers on occasion. The bench is obviously affected by the many platoons the A's employ, leaving them with few true bench players.
As the roster looks now, Eric Sogard could potentially fit this mold, though the A's could opt to keep him swinging the bat on an everyday basis at Triple-A Nashville and let Andy Parrino or Tyler Ladendorf back up the middle-infield duo of Marcus Semien and Ben Zobrist.