Like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler had a down year. While his overall batting average and OBP remained near career values, his SLG and ISO were WAY down. He hasn't had a worse year of power since 2008, his second year in the league. However, his walk rate was its highest ever. Butler swung at fewer pitches outside the zone, and he was given fewer pitches inside the zone. He also had a lower swinging strike rate, which all combine to say that at least some of the increased BB% is for real. His GB% was above his career rate, and his FB% was below his career rate. For a man of Butler’s body type, he really should be hitting fewer ground balls. His HR/FB% also declined back down to career levels, which means that 2012 was probably a random outlier.
It's possible that he was playing through a vague neck injury. Players playing through injury often experience a decline in power, but it is difficult to say whether or not this is the case. Players of Butler's body type and offensive profile tend not to age very well, either, so Butler could be in an early aging decline. Or it could just be a random down year. Either way, we can still expect a high BA and high OBP in 2014. If his power rebounds, then he'll be the 2 WAR DH we all know and love (or don't love). I would expect a rebound to something near his career levels.
There have been trade rumors flying about the internet that the Royals are considering trading Butler. He is due to make $8 million in 2014 and has a team option for $12.5 million in 2015 with a $1 million buyout. Butler's 2012 performance, apparently his peak, was worth slightly more than his 2015 salary. While Butler could rebound and give good value in 2014, it is not likely that he will be worth a $12.5 million salary in 2015. Theoretically, with 2 years left of control, Butler's trade value is higher now than next year. I won't speculate on potential returns in a trade, but I would like to speculate on what the Royals could do if they trade Butler.
Scenarios depend on what the Royals receive. The Royals know they need to upgrade 2B and OF and obtain another SP or two. I'll try to come up with a scenario for each. Assuming the Royals receive a 2B and don't do anything to upgrade OF, they'll have options. A /Perez platoon at C/DH and a Lough/Maxwell platoon at RF/DH could work. and Maxwell both offer power and walks, with performing better against RHP and Maxwell performing better against LHP; however, the sample sizes are pretty small for both players, and differences in splits may not be significant. Having flexibility in those 3 positions would allow Yost to maximize his players' abilities and use a bench to his advantage, if he chose to do so. This scenario has the Royals carrying 5 outfielders-Gordon, Cain, Lough, Dyson, Maxwell. probably becomes the odd man out in this scenario.
If the Royals received an OF in return, then your 2014 starting 2B is likely Emilio . Justin Maxwell probably becomes the primary DH against LHP and sits against RHP, while and Perez will share catching and DH duties against RHP with Perez getting the lion's share of innings at C. Lough probably gets sent back to AAA with Dyson holding down the 4th outfield spot.
If the Royals receive a SP in return, then both the above scenarios will likely occur. starts at 2nd while the 1st scenario's C/DH/RF platoon is in effect.
My favorite involves the Royals receiving a 2B and prospects, which allows Lough, Maxwell, Perez, and to be used very flexibly to keep the best bats in the lineup each night. Each of those players can also offer value on defense, while Butler offers no value on defense.
Should the Royals trade Butler? It's a tough call. The Royals could get a good return for him and free up positional flexibility and allow platoon situations like the A's and Red Sox have. However, Butler is the best pure hitter on the team and is one of the few who knows how to take a walk. After his down year, his value is lower than after 2012. He is generally consistent from year to year and is very durable. If his down performance was due to some injury, Butler could have a fantastic rebound in 2014 and provide great value relative to his contract. Butler is a career Royal and a fan favorite. It would be tough to see him go, but if the Royals get the right return, they should go for it.