Over the past week, there was much ado about the marquis players in sports; Lebron James signed a contract with Cleveland and baseball showcased its stars in the All-Star game.
Heading into Friday night’s game at Boston, the Kansas City Royals are in transition as to who their biggest stars are.
Just two years ago at the All-Star game in Kansas City, Billy Butler was in the midst of his most productive year with 29 homers and 107 runs driven in as the Royals designated hitter. He was the toast of the town as the Royals All-Star — this year Butler has only three homers.
When the All-Star break arrived after last Sunday’s win against Detroit, Butler was ready to get away.
"Basically not think about baseball for four days," is how Butler put it.
Butler, in the last year of his contract, is 27. No one in the organization has said anything publicly about Butler’s future with the Royals, but there have been indications since last winter when the Royals pursued Carlos Beltran as an outfielder and a DH that they’re moving in a different direction.
That’s why, according to Kansas City sports and marketing guru Russ Cline, teams like the Royals and Chiefs are reluctant to market one player as the face of a franchise.
“They’re smart enough to know that there are going to be players (who) evolve,” said Cline, owner of The RCA Group. “There’s going to be new heroes and new people that they’re going to rally around and they’ve got to leave room for that.”
In the past two years, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez, signed to contracts beyond this season, have emerged as the new heroes.
Gordon acknowledged how much sentiments toward Butler have changed.
“He’s just had such a good career that, maybe like a speed bump this year even though his numbers aren’t terribly bad, it’s not what they’ve been in the past,” said Gordon from Minneapolis this week. “I think people are asking ‘Where’s the old Billy Butler?’”
It’s the fans, says Russ Cline, who anoint a face of the franchise. It’s part of what Cline calls brand equity transfer value.
“You allow the process to happen and brand equity transfer value will happen as the fans say, ‘I come out to the ballpark and I love seeing that guy play ball.’”
Chad Spohn is one of those fans who has anointed Gordon as the face of the Royals. Since Spohn grew up in Nebraska before moving to Mankato, Minn., where he lives, he’s admittedly biased toward the ex-Husker. But Spohn said Gordon replaces Butler, whom he figures won’t be a Royal much longer.
“He’s not performing to his contractual obligations, so unfortunately probably not,” said Spohn. “I think the face of your franchise has probably gotten a little bit younger and they need (Eric) Hosmer and (Mike) Moustakas to start hitting the ball a little bit.”
Hosmer and Moustakas were tabbled as future All-Stars when they came up. Like Butler, they have also fallen short of expectations this season.
Gordon said his All-Star peers are buzzing about his other teammates as future All-Stars. But not Butler.
“Guys were asking about some of the players. ‘What do you got on Wade Davis? What do you got on Lorenzo Cain?’ So guys are noticing it now,” said Gordon.
If the Royals reach the playoffs, a hero will emerge in the eyes of the fans. The big question is whether that transition will continue from Butler to a new, fresh face.