Cubs Acquire Eddie Butler from Rockies for James Farris, International Pool Swap

Hey, look, a Chicago team made a trade involving a guy named Butler. Except that this team is actually good and the player, well, he’s got a little work to do.

It doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but the reactions from those in the know tell you that the Cubs acquiring former top-30 prospect Eddie Butler from the Colorado Rockies might turn into something. The Cubs were able to pry Butler free in exchange for righty James Farris. The deal also included an exchange of international bonus money, with the Rockies getting the number 28 slot from the Cubs while giving up their number 74 slot in exchange.

In order to make room on the 40-man roster, right-hander Dylan Floro was designated for assignment.

Okay, not a whole to get excited about so far. And it doesn’t get much better when you see that Butler was available after being DFA’d himself to clear space for recently signed Greg Holland. It gets even worse when you look to the stat line and see a 6.50 ERA (5.09 FIP) and only 5.31 K/9 against 3.95 BB/9 over 159.1 innings pitched in parts of three seasons. For those of you not familiar with the context for those numbers, they are very bad and not good.

In fact, Butler’s paltry 1.34 K/BB ranks dead last among all 302 MLB pitchers who’ve accumulated at least 150 IP since 2014. Huh, yeah, that’s suboptimal. So why are people excited about him again? Well, it starts with this:

That was all the way back in the 2013 Futures Game, but even such a strikeout of Xander Bogaerts on a nasty disappearing changeup can only take you so far. As Rockies blog Purple Row chronicled nicely, the hype always seemed to be a few steps ahead of reality for Butler, at least once he reached the upper levels of the minors. And that’s how he went from diamond in the rough to DFA.

Could he still be a hidden gem as far as the Cubs are concerned? Could getting him away from Coors Field turn things around? I mean, sure, but you can’t just brush the dirt off a stone you found buried in the ground and have it shine brilliantly. While the thin mountain air certainly didn’t help, it’s too simple an explanation to lay Butler’s struggles at the feet of his ballpark.

The hope, and it’s a legitimate one, is that master gemologist Chris Bosio can cut and polish his new charge and bring back some of that shine from years ago. Which might mean resurrecting the change, a pitch Butler has used less and less over the past three seasons (from 16.9% in 2014 to 12.7% and 6.9% in subsequent campaigns). I’m not sure of the exact reasons for the dropoff, though I’d be willing to bet heavily on a two-team parlay of eroding confidence and lack of feel.

That earlier-linked Purple Row piece reinforces the idea that Butler was indeed pressing and may have felt the effects of a rapid rise through the Rockies’ system. It’s not hard to imagine the young pitcher getting out over his skis and trying to live up to the hype. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Bringing it back to the Cubs, the whole change-of-scenery angle is put into play, and I’m talking much more than just his physical surroundings. Absent the expectations and the need to prove himself as a top prospect, it’s possible Butler could rediscover some of that old magic. It’d be nice if he found the curve at the same time. He’ll only be 26 in March and won’t be a free agent until 2022, so there’s plenty of time on his clock. He’s still got an option, too, which means the Cubs can bring him along slowly and let him sort things out.

At this point, we’re looking at a low-risk depth move that gives the Cubs a guy who could step in and make a spot start from time to time. At worst, he ends having too many inclusions for even Boz to polish up. At best, though, he’s a cost-controlled starter whose stuff has the potential to make him a nice back-end rotation option down the road. This is the latest in a litany of moves we’ve come to expect from this organization, another possible score for the American Pickers of the baseball world.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Butler and Kyle Hendricks vying to see who’s got the sicker changeup? Boy howdy, that’d be fun.

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