Billy Butler’s conversion to a full-time designated hitter paid a major dividend Thursday night when he became the first Royals player to win a Silver Slugger award in 14 years.
The award, which dates to 1980, is given annually to the top offensive player in each league at each position as determined by a vote of managers and coaches.
Butler became the Royals’ DH in May 2011 to accommodate the promotion of first baseman Eric Hosmer from the minors. Butler initially chafed at the move — but no longer.
“That’s my role,” Butler said, “and I’ve accepted that and I’m fine with it. I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and I’m going to continue to try and work harder each day to hone in on my skills.
“That’s not saying I don’t work at first base anymore. I take my ground balls every day but, after you get done with your work, you have to realize what you’re doing that day and what your role is and you have to focus on that.”
Butler, 26, won the award after batting .313 and setting career highs with 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. He batted .315 in 138 games as a DH with 23 homers and 93 RBIs.
“I felt comfortable all year from day one,” he said. “I was locked in and put a lot of hard work in last offseason … It’s hard to say I’m going to go out there and put up better numbers than I did this year, but, hey, I’m sure going to try.”
Butler won the Silver Slugger one day after being selected as the Royals’ player of the year for the third time in four seasons by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The Royals had not had a Silver Slugger recipient since third baseman Dean Palmer in 1998. George Brett won the award twice as a third baseman (1980 and 1985) and once as a first baseman (1988). Outfielder Willie Wilson won in 1980 and 1982.
Four other players won the award once before Butler: DH Hal McRae in 1982; second baseman Frank White in 1986; third baseman Gary Gaetti in 1995; and Palmer in 1998.
Other American League selections: catcher A.J. Pierzynski (Chicago); first baseman Prince Fielder (Detroit); second baseman Robinson Cano (New York); shortstop Derek Jeter (New York); third baseman Miguel Cabrera (Detroit); and outfielders Mike Trout (Los Angeles), Josh Hamilton (Texas) and Josh Willingham (Minnesota).
The National League selections: catcher Buster Posey (San Francisco), first baseman Adam LaRoche (Washington), second baseman Aaron Hill (Arizona), shortstop Ian Desmond (Washington), outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee) and Jay Bruce (Cincinnati); and pitcher Stephen Strasburg (Washington).
Hottovy traded to Rangers — Lefty Tommy Hottovy is heading to Texas for a player to be named later and cash considerations, while right-hander Jeremy Jeffress is going to Toronto for cash considerations.
Both pitchers spent most of last season in the minors and were designated last Friday for assignment, which meant the Royals had 10 days to trade, release or send them through waivers.
The Royals have yet to reach a resolution on outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who was also designated last Friday for assignment. Bourgeois, 30, batted .258 in 30 games for the Royals and .243 in 60 games at Omaha.
Hottovy, 31, is a Kansas City native and former Wichita State player who spent one year in the Royals’ organization after signing last signing last November as a minor-league free agent following eight seasons in the Boston system.
A lefty specialist, Hottovy was 0-0 with a 2.89 ERA in nine big-league games while also going 2-2 with seven saves and a 2.52 ERA in 41 appearances at Triple-A Omaha.
The Royals obtained Jeffress, 25, on Dec. 19, 2010 as part of the six-player swap that sent former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. The Royals also obtained shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Jake Odorizzi.
Jeffress was 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in 13 big-league games in addition to going 5-4 and 4.85 in 38 minor-league appearances – 37 at Omaha and one at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.