Brett Butler (by smitty)

Oh what could have been…

The Braves drafted Brett Butler in the 23rd round of the 1979 draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Butler was only one of four Braves draftees from 1979 to make it to the big leagues and easily had the best career. Unfortunately, most of that career came with other teams, including division rivals LA, San Fran and IWOTM!

After being drafted, Butler flew through the minors. In fact, in 1981 he started in Durham (A) and was promoted straight to Richmond (AAA). He earned a late-season call up in 1981 and was tabbed as the future center fielder and leadoff hitter. That is exactly what he did to start 1982.

Butler started off the 1982 campaign pretty well. He was getting on base at a .388 clip and wasn’t striking out much. By the end of April, though, the league caught up to him and he started to unravel. By July, he was back in Richmond.

When Butler was recalled in mid August, he couldn’t get in a groove and was pretty much a bench player for the rest of the season. Butler finished the year hitting .217 with a .291 OBP. He did steal 21 bases, though.

The 1983 season would be different. Butler lead the league in triples and stole 39 bases, putting up close to 3 WAR. The Braves then sent Butler to Cleveland (with Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna AND CASH!) for Len Barker. This deal alone sums up the Braves from 1984-1990. Jacoby would become a two time All-Star. Barker signed a huge deal with the Braves and won 10 games before being released in 1986.

As you may know, Butler eventually went to the Giants and later the Dodgers where he became one of the most feared leadoff hitters in the game. He had very little pop, but may have been one of the greatest bunters of all time. While he only had one All-Star appearance, he received downballot MVP votes in five different seasons and was 12th in baseball in WAR from 1984-1995 — just behind Lou Whitaker and just ahead of Paul Molitor.

In my mind, Butler is the ceiling for Mallex Smith. Both are left handed center fielders with little pop. Smith probably has more speed; Butler probably was a better hitter. If we can get Butler’s career out of Smith, we’ll have something.

That is, if we don’t send him to Cleveland for another dead arm.

34 thoughts on “Brett Butler (by smitty)”

  1. Approximately 99.7% of Rick Behenna’s baseball notoriety stems from being part of that trade.

  2. Butler was a very good player for a lot of years. As I remember, the problem with Barker was injuries. AND some hint of injury was known when the trade happened. Stupid is as stupid does.

    Fundamentally, the Braves (and most of MLB) undervalued the walk at that time. Another casualty of that was the previously recapped Darryl Evans. Switch those 2 trades back and the late 70’s to late 80’s look a LOT different.

    The rhyme with “Rhett Butler” certainly helped get him some zing in the southeast.

    And yes, he is a good comp for “what would a really good Mallex Smith look like.”

  3. It is stunning to me that we really got only one full season out of Butler. It seemed like he played several years for us. The trade was equally amazing. We traded Butler at what should have been the peak of his value but the value we got in return was negligible. If I remember correctly, the deal was done before the trade deadline and Butler was the infamous PTBNL. A lot of Braves fans were furious when they found out it was Butler.

    Barker’s major claim to fame was that he pitched a perfect game for Cleveland. Other than that (both before and after the trade), his career was extremely non-remarkable with a career ERA of over 4 and more losses than wins.

  4. Braves, for as long as I can remember, seem pretty impatient with talented players that start off poorly in the Majors. The other side of the coin, Braves seem to be abundantly patient with less-talented players who start off hot in the Majors then go through years of suck.

    This cycle drives me nuts.

  5. There are definitely things that it’s hard for us to see, but it’s clear that the Braves’ frustration with Bethancourt had to do with the team’s perception that he had a bad attitude — that he wasn’t working hard enough to improve.

    That said, I’m not sure why the team gives some guys a better chance than others. Jo-Jo Reyes and Kyle Davies got around 30 starts over a couple of years, both hugely sucked, and the team cut bait; Odalis Perez got a few more starts and Bruce Chen got a few fewer, and both had much better careers. The same number of starts went to Jason Schmidt, and he’s basically the pitcher version of Butler, an All-Star who left the team as a PTBNL.

    It frustrated me to no end how little of a chance they gave Brandon Jones. It’s really hard to know how they determine when they’ve seen enough.

  6. I wonder, though, if there are some players that can simply slip through the cracks. Eury Perez is getting a crack with now his fourth team, and yet some people just run out of currency very quickly.

    It’s interesting to look at some of the short-lived players in the Braves system. Chuckie Thomas puts up his season with the Braves, and 55 ABs later he’s out of baseball with the A’s. Andy Marte got 7 part-time seasons with three clubs. Wilson Betemit is the tough one: 11 years, 6 teams, 104 OPS+, and no full-time gig. The immortal Barbaro Canizares got 21 whole PAs at the major league level.

    One would think that if any of these players were major leaguers, Brandon Jones included, they’d have gotten their shot.

  7. Oh, and Jo-Jo Reyes really sucked. 335 IP, career ERA of 6. That’s it, I’m teaching my kids to throw left-handed.

  8. Absolutely nothing has gone right for the Nationals this winter

    Or, to put it another way, have you looked at the Nationals’ projected lineup this year?

    Ben Revere
    Anthony Rendon
    Bryce Harper
    Ryan Zimmerman
    Daniel Murphy
    Jayson Werth
    Danny Espinosa
    Wilson Ramos

    For three names, you’re getting excited. Revere doesn’t walk, but he’s one of the few players in baseball you might trust to buoy his OBP with his batting average. Rendon had a disappointing season last year, but he’s still just 26 and preternaturally gifted. Harper stepped out of Baseball Simulator 1.000, and the rest of the league can’t do anything about it.

    After that, though, it’s bleak. Zimmerman had a .308 OBP last year, and his body is an old soul. Murphy is a fine complementary player, but he makes you wince as a #5 hitter. Werth is coming off his worst season, and he’s 37. Espinosa is coming off one of his best seasons, but that still makes him a defense-first player you hide at the bottom of the order. Ramos has been a net-negative hitter for two seasons now.

    The Nationals probably needed Cespedes more than the Mets did, really.

  9. The years in which the Braves were/are trying to win a pennant, I can see being impatient with a young player. However, when it’s obvious that the team isn’t going to win the division or sniff the wild card, why on god’s green earth they don’t give the Terdoslaviches of the world a decent shot is beyond me. He’s the latest and not greatest example but there’s plenty of others that didn’t receive their shot due to an aged veteran taking up the ABs.

  10. The annual February sports lull is settling in early and I’m starting to think about our plans with the #3 pick…
    Anybody have a good handle on the top 5 position players and pitchers available in the upcoming draft?

  11. @12 Yeah, I was just going to mention that, with respect to Jason Schmidt, his mid-season trade in 1996 brought in Denny Neagle – which was probably the right move for a team trying to win another World Series. Neagle was a bit of a disappointment down the stretch in 1996, but he won 20 games during the 1997 season (finishing third in Cy Young voting in 1997) for a team that probably should have won it all.

  12. I never get bent out of shape about the fastball-mashing, big, non-athletic first baseman type not getting the opportunity. It’s an easy narrative for me to follow that these guys can’t hit big league off-speed stuff enough to hit enough to stick as a first baseman, and they’re not athletic enough for corner outfield. I can believe that even the third base coach at AAA is more than qualified to see that. Terdoslavich, specifically, would never out-hit Freddie, and can’t play corner outfield. He’s also not versatile enough to keep on the bench.

    I, too, would like to know about our #3 pick options. We have 3 of the top 44 picks. It’s really not crazy to think we’ll have the consensus #1 farm system in baseball for several years. Do your job, Brian!


    If you could have a “do-over” on anything, what would it be?

    I would have been way more negative about the prospect of the DH coming to the National League in my press conference last week [laughs]. I didn’t think I was that positive, so obviously I needed to be more negative….

    That’s interesting. Last year, as you were about to take over as commissioner, you created a stir when you engaged in a dialogue about eliminating defensive shifts, and some media outlets went to town on that.

    It’s the damnedest thing. I made the same mistake on Day 1 and my first anniversary. When I talked about the defensive shifts, I let myself get into a situation where I speculated about a change I wasn’t serious about. I made the same mistake this time when I went back and forth on the pros and cons of the DH issue rather than saying what I’ve said all along — that I think we’re status quo on the DH, because it is the single most important feature that defines the differences between the two leagues. I let myself get into the back and forth and the pros and cons, and that’s always a mistake with the press.

    So is the message on the future of the DH different than what came out of the owners’ meetings in Miami last week?

    The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo. I know [St. Louis Cardinals general manager] John Mozeliak talked about it, and when you have any National League club talking about it, it’s interesting. But I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are.

  14. Unfortunately, this is a smokescreen in order to present the DH as a “concession” during the next CBA. It’s not much of a bargaining chip if the other side thinks you want it too.

  15. 13 & 15—

    Off the top of my head…the pitchers to watch are AJ Puk (Florida LHP), Alec Hansen (Oklahoma RHP), Jason Groome (HS LHP), and Riley Pint (HS RHP). The hitters to watch are Corey Ray (Louisville OF), Kyle Lewis (Mercer OF), and Delvin Perez (HS SS). Buddy Reed (Florida OF) is another guy everyone’s putting in that top group, but I just don’t see it with him. Not as high as the Braves are drafting, anyway.

    I’m probably forgetting a couple of guys, and there are, of course, always guys who’ll jump into the conversation as the season gets going. Lewis (power) and Perez are the most exciting of the position players, IMO. Puk and Groome are both big lefties who throw really hard, so if we go with pitching, those are my favorites there.

  16. @19

    From what the Braves State Media has been hinting at, it sounds like we would go after a college bat.

    If Puk is around at three, it would be hard to pass on him.

  17. Incidentally:

    The Braves are planning to blitz the 2016-17 international amateur market with spending on par with what the Yankees did during the 2014-15 signing period, when they signed 10 of Baseball America’s Top 30 international prospects for July 2 and spent around $17 million in signing bonuses, not including the 100 percent overage tax that nearly doubled their overall tab. Excluding any Cuban players they might sign (and those players would have to wait until July 2 to sign, so the Braves can stick with their 2016-17 spending plan), the Braves will probably end up spending a similar amount of money this year on 16-year-old Latin American prospects.

  18. I’ve said this many times here, but it probably needs to be repeated every now and then…there’s nothing inherently wrong with throwing money at 16-yr old prospects, but getting them signed this year is just not going to help us field a winning team when WFF opens.

  19. Maybe not, but I’m not sure I like how this topic gets merged in with all the “rebuild / master plan” discussion. This part of the master plan requires 6 or 7 years to ferment. Also, we sign international 16-year olds every year. Should we be more excited this time?

  20. Also, we sign international 16-year olds every year. Should we be more excited this time?

    Yes, clearly. The targets this year — Maitan, especially — are on a different level.

  21. We sign smaller numbers of less-good ones for less money every other year. That argument is the equivalent of, if the Braves had spent $100 million on free agents this offseason, saying “Well, last year we signed A.J. Pierzynski and Eric Stults on the free agent market. Why should I get excited about these guys?”

    Part of the reason the Braves went for the rebuild in the first place is because they were not producing major league players at the rate they needed to out of the minor league system. Attempts to shore up that deficiency are certainly an aspect of the “master plan,” whether they come from trades, the draft, or the international signing period. They will never stop needing more young players, even when the major league team is good again, to replace guys who leave in free agency or as trade chips to fill holes.

  22. Of course, I hated the Brett Butler trade when it became public (late in the ’83 season) and I hated it even more when he returned to the NL as a Giant and then a Dodger. He became a real Braves-killer (.321/.415/.400 in 523 PA) & there was one evening when he really embodied that persona—and he wasn’t even facing Braves pitching.

    On Aug. 28, 1991, I was in L.A. on business & I caught a Pirates/Dodgers game in Chavez Ravine. Coming into the evening, the Braves & Dodgers were deadlocked in 1st place at 69-56.

    Earlier that evening in Atlanta, the Braves had beaten the Mets—Glavine going the distance, earning win #17—so a Pittsburgh win would vault the Bravos back into first all by themselves. So, a big game, especially for a visiting Braves fan.

    From the outset, things looked pretty good. On the strength of a pair of Bonds doubles & a Gary Redus HR, the Bucs’ Doug Drabek had the Dodgers down 4-1 going to the bottom of the 8th.

    The Dodgers get 2 on with 0 out, Drabek still in the game, Brett Butler coming to the plate. To my co-worker, I say, “Even Lasorda wouldn’t have Butler bunt here & I guess Drabek’s staying in… maybe because Butler has no power.”

    Right away, Butler lines one over Bonilla’s head in RF & somehow it lands in the first row of seats – tie game. Of course, at that moment, I’m probably the only one in the stadium cussing up a storm (beside maybe Jim Leyland & Ray Miller). It was Butler’s 2nd HR of the year.

    But the Pirates rally in the 9th—they were quite a club in those days—loading the bases with one out. Bonilla walks in a run, then Bonds hits a sac fly—the Pirates hold on 6-4. Braves back in first. BTW, the Losing Pitcher was none other than Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

    I walked out of Dodger Stadium a little giddy, but (once again) Brett Butler did his best to do us in.

  23. I’m hoping we do some other stuff to make the team that plays in Atlanta a winning team before 2020. You know your team freaking sucks when the hilights of the hot stove season involve 16 year olds.

  24. @20 – Jon Miller claimed he got fired from hockey for mispronouncing “puck.” So, I imagine he may become nervous about his baseball career now.

  25. #31
    Speaking for myself, when my team sucks, I usually want to talk about anything other than my current team.

    Was hanging with an Angels fan this weekend in Anaheim & he said, “Oh, you’re gonna like Aybar at short.”
    My soggy response: “Nnnggg…”

    We can dream, but I’ll start my dreaming when the club on the field shows some promise.

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