Club likely to decline his option, but veteran has strong bond with Kansas City
By Jamal Collier
KANSAS CITY -- On the eve of the biggest game of his career and the Royals' biggest baseball game in 29 years, Billy Butler had lunch at Oklahoma Joe's -- one of Kansas City's most famous and popular BBQ restaurants.
He dined in, eating his slab of ribs with a side of beans for all to see, while fans snapped and tweeted photos of him. Butler, the longest-tenured Royals player, has become enamored with this team and this city. Hours later, the Giants would win Game 7, 3-2, to secure their third World Series championship in five seasons and force Butler to confront his uncertain future.
Kansas City's favorite adopted son, with the nickname "Country Breakfast," stares down impending free agency this winter. The Royals almost certainly will not pick up his $12.5 million option for 2015, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
"We're going to have to make some tough decisions with our roster," general manager Dayton Moore said after Wednesday's game.
Butler, however, has made his intentions clear. He wants to continue his career with the Royals.
"Even if they decline it, you can still talk," Butler said. "Nothing's been said. I haven't been told anything, nor should I. We were focused on the World Series. I bleed Royal blue, and I'm a proven Major League player. If it's not here, it's somewhere else, but I'd rather it just be here. It's just the way it is. We're small market and business is business, but I feel like it's a little bit more than that here."
The Royals are all Butler has known since he was 18 years old, when the team selected him 14th overall in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft out of Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Fla. He turned down a scholarship to play at the University of Florida to sign with Kansas City.
Butler made his Major League debut in 2007 at the age of 21, alongside fellow first-round prospects Luke Hochevar ('05) and Alex Gordon ('06), as the Royals built what looked like a promising future with a strong farm system.
Success, however, would not come quickly. Butler emerged as one of the Royals' best players, but the team endured six consecutive losing seasons, where the Royals averaged 92 losses a year from 2007-12.
"It's come in a complete 360," Butler said. "We were struggling to compete daily, and the talent has taken an increase every year. That's a credit to Dayton and the Glass family and the scouting department here. They found extremely talented players with great character. This organization is oozing with talent, and the future is so bright. It's not for this year. You can just see it, with how young this squad is, the future is bright for them."
This season, as the Royals secured their first playoff berth in almost three decades, Butler hit nine homers and 66 RBIs -- his lowest since 2008 -- while setting career lows in batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.323) and slugging percentage (.379).
Butler emerged in the postseason again as a force in the middle of the Royals' lineup. During the World Series, he went 5-for-15 while driving in three runs.
Butler collected another hit on Wednesday to begin the second inning, and then sent Royals fans into a frenzy as he lumbered around the basepaths to score from first base on a double by Gordon. Butler does not run gracefully, but it still counted just the same as a run when he crossed home plate.
It could have been his last memorable moment wearing a Royals uniform.
"My dad's always told me good things always come to an end, and I hope this isn't one of those times, this isn't one of those things that has to end," Butler said. "I'd like to see if we could build on this next year with this squad. If I'm in those plans, I'll be here. And if I'm not, there's nothing I can do about that.
"It's one of those things that has to work out for both sides. It's one of those things where you want to be here, but you have to think if it's the best thing for your family. Family comes first, and when that decision comes, you have to sit down with your family and see if that's the right thing. But this organization is my family, as well. You're right. It does mean a little bit more."
Jamal Collier is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.