Billy Butler walked slowly back to the Royals dugout late Wednesday night, twirled the bat between his hands and removed his helmet without uttering a word.
He entered the batter’s box against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner to a rousing ovation from a Kauffman Stadium crowd trying to will its team to a comeback. He left to near silence as the second out of the ninth inning.
The final at-bat of his first postseason was a foul popup to the third-base side. It may be his final at-bat in a Royals uniform, too.
A Game 7 defeat may have also been the swan song for starting pitcher James Shields, a soon-to-be free agent, although he never entered the game.
Butler has a $12.5 million option for 2015, but the Royals can choose to exercise a $1 million buyout instead.
“I hope it’s not my last game as a Kansas City Royal,” Butler said. “But it’s a business, and you have to realize that. If it’s up to me, hopefully we’ll have talks about it and we can come to an agreement.”
Butler acknowledged the early indications are that the club will opt to exercise the buyout as American League teams move away from players who serve strictly as designated hitters without offering value in the field.
What’s more, Butler endured the worst hitting season of his eight-year tenure with the Royals. He batted a career-worst .271 with nine homers, the lowest total since his rookie season.
“It’s out of my hands,” Butler said. “I’d sure like to be a part of (the future) here. I feel like I’ve proven myself. I’ve proven myself my whole career. It is what it is.”
The Royals could move away from Shields for a different reason: Money.
Shields is set to become a free agent this winter, and prevailing thought is he will command a sizable — and lengthy — contract. That’s not a typical agreement for the Royals, who have never committed more than the $55 million to a pitcher. They gave Gil Meche that amount over five years before the 2007 season.
It will require deeper digging into the pockets to retain Shields, who was 27-17 the past two seasons with a 3.18 ERA.
“I had a phenomenal two years — so far,” Shields said. “I’m still a Royal as of right now.
“I definitely would like to come back, but we’ll see what the future holds for me.”
Shields’ winning percentage and ERA while with the Royals are both lower than his career numbers, indicating he is trending up, even if he endured a difficult postseason.
Nearly equal to his production on the field is his near-lock ability to stay on the field. Shields has thrown at least 200 innings eight straight seasons.
A true workhorse, indeed. But he left Kansas City wanting more this postseason. In five playoff starts, he was 1-2 with a 6.12 ERA — and he never recorded an out in the seventh inning in any of the five appearances.
He may not have a second chance.