For it being football's conference championship weekend, baseball logged a fair share of newsworthy headlines. Manny Ramirez(notes) and Johnny Damon(notes) staged a Red Sox reunion with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels took the Blue Jays off the hook for Vernon Wells'(notes) huge salary. The Chicago White Sox eliminated a potentially big storyline by exercising Ozzie Guillen's 2012 contract option a year earlier than necessary.
The most optimistic item of the bunch, though, might have come in the under-the-radar bulletin that the Kansas City Royals inked Billy Butler(notes) to a four-year contract worth $30 million. The club-friendly deal for the batsman extraordinaire includes a fifth-year team option that would be worth $12.5 million.
Not bad for a team which had previously defined its offseason by trading away its face of the franchise ace in Zack Greinke(notes) and hearing everyone else assume they'd trade closer Joakim Soria(notes) to the New York Yankees if the price was right.
In locking up Butler for all of his three arbitration years (2011-13) plus his first two free-agent years (if the option is exercised), Kansas City GM Dayton Moore has put his club in an advantageous position as it waits for the Mike Moustakas(notes) and Co. pipeline to start producing whenever it arrives from a stocked minor league system. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star points out, it's not a terrible deal for Butler, either. He just guaranteed himself a lot of money and will still be in line for a second big deal as this one will expire before he turns 30.
Maybe it's because of his "Edgar Martinez for a new age" label, but Butler has turned into one of my favorite players to follow and one of the guys I like to have on my fantasy team. Though his over-the-fence power hasn't yet materialized, he's been a doubles machine, posting 51 in 2009 and 45 in 2010. His OPS+ was 125 in '09 and 134 in '10. If he can boost that number further, Royals fans will be ecstatic, though Royally Speaking discovers that Butler has a few discouraging comparable players for the good crop of encouraging ones.
We can't tell what the future will hold, but today's bottom line is this: As the Royals try to climb out of their decades-deep hole, they made the right move by locking up one of their best assets for a reasonable fixed cost over the next five years.
At the very least, it's a good start as a new type of hope begins to take hold in K.C.