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Signed LHP Zach Duke to a three-year deal worth $15 million. [11/18]
Last December, Rick Hahn inked Scott Downs to a one-year contract with an option for a second. "[Signing] the consistent, durable Downs to a short-term deal was a safe solution for the Sox. Much safer than, say, paying many more millions to bring back Boone Logan," wrote Ben Lindbergh. Hahn, some 11 months later, just spent Boone Logan money to replace Downs with Duke.
While Duke now shares an AAV with Logan, he might possess a brighter outlook. Formerly a middling starter, he appeared rejuvenated last season as a reliever with the Brewers. An altered arm slot and arsenal sparked Duke's return to relevancy, the latter of which resulted in more sinkers and breaking balls in place of changeups. Generally, such a tweak would lead to a wider platoon split; not so here, as Duke's ability to locate down and away led to good results against lefties and righties.
The unsettling part about this deal for most is that Duke received it after one good year. If he goes on to become little more than a decent specialist, Hahn will have essentially replicated the most-mocked deal from winter '13. Of course Downs and the other members of the White Sox' junk-bin 'pen share some blame here; had they not finished near the bottom of the league in ERA and FIP, then perhaps Hahn doesn't devote resources in this manner. Alas, Hahn will take some heat until Duke proves he's legit.
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Signed DH-R Billy Butler to a three-year deal worth $30 million. [11/18]
Had someone described Butler as the A's kind of player entering the offseason, they would've been derided and instructed to stop resorting to decade-old stereotypes—did they even know what Moneyball was really about? Yet here we are, with the A's giving Butler a hefty three-year deal weeks after the Royals declined his $12.5 million option.
Butler can hit. That's about it. His defensive versatility is limited to standing and falling down at first base, and he doesn't run well. (Depending on who the A's bat Butler behind, he has to be one of the favorites to lead the majors in double plays hit into.) There is a concern about his bat, stemming from his struggles against righties last season, but the historical numbers suggest he should bounce back; the A's are banking on it, lest they pay $10 million a year for a lefty masher. Butler deserves props for proving he can consistently produce as a DH, which is tougher than we previously believed it to be. Whatever trepidation there is about Billy Beane paying a limited talent this much money should fade when everyone remembers he paid Jim Johnson $10 million last season.
Speaking of Johnson, he's off the books now; ditto for Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, so the A's have the funds to chase a new middle infield to their heart's content. If there is a storyline to watch here, it's what Butler's addition means for John Jaso. Given that Jaso's career behind the plate is in doubt due to concussions, you wonder if he's even tendered a contract in a few weeks' time. —R.J. Anderson
Often going from any home ballpark not named Petco to the Oakland Coliseum will put a dent in a player’s value. That’s not the case here, though as Butler is coming from a place that kills fly balls (Kaufmann) already, and doesn’t carry a batted-ball profile that would be damaged by the downgrade. A career 48.3 percent groundball hitter, Butler could set the record for double plays in a season if the A’s continue to employ their on-base savvy hitters in front of him, but aside from that, there shouldn’t be a substantial change in value here.
No, the bulk of the question marks on Butler aren’t about how he’ll fare in Oakland, but rather how he’ll fare at all. He’s coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, though he did show signs of life in the second half. Fantasy owners need not care how he performs relative to his fantasy value, but merely how he’ll perform. The days of Butler hitting 29 home runs are gone (and were barely here to begin with), but he can still be an impact bat in batting average, and Oakland’s usage of high-OBP guys near the top of the lineup (something the Royals didn’t always do) should aid Butler in a counting numbers context. Value Butler as you did before—it’s fair to be skeptical but relying on track record rather than the first three months of performance in 2014 is recommended.
John Jaso/Stephen Vogt
We don’t know yet how the lineup is going to shake out because it’s unlikely the A’s are done making moves. Still, the Butler acquisition causes playing time problems for one of Jaso or Vogt, if not both. Neither are fantasy mainstays, though both are helpful in very deep mixed and AL-Only leagues. Butler’s presence could force one of these two to first base and shunt the other to a bench or part-time DH role. Oakland tends to balance playing time well between the members of their deep and varied bench, but that can also mean less value in fantasy because of the lost playing time. Neither are recommended options outside the above-mentioned leagues, but both take a small hit in value due to the cloud of uncertainty that’s now been placed over their heads. —Craig Goldstein
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