The other day, it was announced that the Kansas City Royals have brought back Bruce Chen on a one year deal with a mutual option for 2015. It was a deal that seemed inevitable – Chen had been a solid pitcher for the Royals over the past four seasons, and his versatility allowed Ned Yost to have a decent insurance policy should one of the starters falter. However, even before he has been added to the 40 man roster, Yost has started that Chen will be a member of the starting rotation.
“I think we’re going into it with Bruce having one of the five spots,” Yost said on Friday.
This statement comes on the heels of Yordano Ventura being told to go into Spring Training with the mindset that he also has a spot in the starting rotation. With James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie already locked in to the first three slots, it would appear as though the Royals rotation is not set for when the season rolls around.
But where does this leave Danny Duffy? Duffy had been expected to be, at worst, the Royals fourth starter. Now, he finds himself as part of the battle for the fifth starter spot with Ventura, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar and Brad Penny. Judging by how the Royals front office is viewing Ventura’s candidacy for the fifth spot, Duffy may be facing an uphill battle to be a part of the rotation.
Perhaps the Royals have concerns about Duffy being able to remain as a starter. He has already undergone Tommy John surgery, and has struggled to pitch deep into games. Those struggles have manifested over his career numbers by inning. Through the first two innings, Duffy has a 3.11 ERA, a 1.50 WHiP and a strikeout to walk rate of 1.59. After the second, however, Duffy becomes a lot more hittable, posting a 5.77 ERA, a 1.61 WHiP and a strikeout to walk rate of 1.659. Although Duffy has been able to generate more strikeouts later in games, he has generally pitched much worse.
A possible option should the Royals still continue to view Danny Duffy as a starter, they may look to send him back to Omaha to start the season. Duffy still has minor league options, so the Royals could send him down without having to worry about another team scooping him up. There, Duffy could work on pitching deeper into games without having to worry about the pressure of trying to perform for a team with playoff aspirations.
It could also be that the Royals may be considering transitioning Duffy into a relief role. He certainly has the arm for it, with a fastball in the mid 90’s and a solid changeup. In the bullpen, Duffy could pitch in a long relief role, and if he performs well there, could eventually end up as a set up man. Then, that leads to questions as to what to do with Davis and Hochevar.
While the Bruce Chen signing was a solid move, it has led to more questions than answers. Determining what role Danny Duffy has with the Royals in 2014 may be one of the biggest questions heading into Spring Training.