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Billy Butler a first-time free agent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Billy Butler hopes to be playing for the Kansas City Royals again next season.

Of course, the business of baseball could change all of that.

The Royals declined their option on Butler for next season Saturday, making the former All-Star designated hitter a free agent for the first time in his eight-year major league career.

The Royals, who chose Butler in the first round of the 2004 draft, elected to pay the former All-Star a $1 million buyout rather than exercise their $12.5 million option. The decision was widely expected, and Butler said he hopes that he'll be able to agree with the Royals on a new contract.

"There's tough decisions on every club. There's financial decisions that have to happen, especially on a small-market club like us, like Kansas City," Butler said. "There's no ill will toward the organization. You can't take it personal in this business. I hope everything works out and I can return, but there's always an option out there that might not happen."

The Royals had until Monday to decide whether to exercise their option. Now, Butler's agents will be able to discuss his future with any other team in the majors.

Butler was an All-Star two years ago, when the game was played in Kansas City. But he hit just .271 with nine homers and 66 RBIs this season, far below his career averages. And when the Royals were making a push for the playoffs, he was kept out of the lineup often in late September.

Once the Royals qualified for their first postseason in 29 years, though, Butler was back in the lineup. He hit .262 with eight RBIs as the Royals reached the World Series.

"Obviously when you're on a team that won the American League, it would be tough to leave that team," Butler said. "It's the only organization I've ever been in. That plays a factor."

Butler said he would like a long-term deal wherever he ends up, but he refused to speculate on what that would mean financially. Regardless, he will most likely end up with an AL team because, even though he can play first base, his suspect fielding makes him a better fit at designated hitter.

The Royals now have several key holes to fill after falling to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the World Series. Staff ace James Shields became a free agent, and the bidding for him will likely take the Royals out of play. Right field Nori Aoki is also a free agent.

"We'll continue to look to add players that fit in, but we're going to have to certainly look to add starting pitching," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "This ballpark demands you have a lot of speed, starting pitchers that throw strikes, a bullpen that is powerful, and that's the formula we've tried to put together."

Butler said that Moore expressed interest in bringing him back if the numbers work out, but the GM will certainly consider other options. The Royals are in desperate need of some power in the middle of the lineup, and Butler has only hit more than 20 homers twice in his career.

They also moved toward a quicker, speedier lineup late in the season, when they went on their dramatic playoff push. Butler's lack of speed runs counter to that philosophy.

"There's always the option of renegotiating and I'd be more than open to doing that. Me and Dayton talked, it was definitely reiterated that was the goal in mind," Butler said. "It's really early in the process. We'll see how it goes. I'm definitely not ruling out a return."