Not so long ago—a matter of a week or two, really—the KC Royals moving Danny Duffy before the July 30 trade deadline seemed plausible, if not probable.
The possibility of such a deal became widely accepted across baseball media, and trading Duffy, who in the last year of his contract is having such an excellent season (4-3, 2.51 ERA and 9.6 SO9 in 13 games), for prospects, then re-signing him over the winter, makes more sense than keeping him and bringing him back without getting something for him when the getting was good.
Now, a Duffy deal appears impossible. The Royals put him on the 10-day Injured List Tuesday with a left flexor strain, which is by name the same injury that sidelined him for over a month earlier this season. And although they made Duffy’s second trip to the IL retroactive to July 17, meaning he’s eligible to return before the trade deadline expires, the odds of another team taking a chance on him are remote at best.
So, Kansas City needs to face facts. No team is going to risk its future for the present on Duffy, whose two flexor injuries this year are the latest in his discomforting series of maladies that includes a torn UCL and corrective Tommy John surgery in 2012. Likewise, the KC Royals don’t need to push Duffy any further to accomplish whatever it is they hope to accomplish down the stretch of this lost campaign. Little will be compromised if they protect Duffy by shutting him down.
After all, Duffy’s suffered the same injury—one known to become far more serious—twice this season, which intuitively seems to render his pitching again this year risky, if not unwise. That he didn’t make it back for over a month after suffering his first flexor strain suggests he may not be ready to pitch again until at least mid-August, at which point putting him back on the mound makes even less sense.
This is especially true considering the Royals will probably need Duffy next year. No one expected the rotation to be anything special this season, but few anticipated it being as bad as it’s been. Brad Keller, Mike Minor, and Brady Singer have been woefully inconsistent, promising prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch pitched miserably in their brief turns in the rota, and others who’ve taken shots at starting haven’t overwhelmed.
And with Singer’s shoulder fatigue, which landed him on the IL with Duffy, added to the mix, there’s every reason to believe Kansas City isn’t ready to move on without Duffy. It’s more than reasonable to believe they want him back in 2022—he’s proven he can still pitch effectively, he’s a respected veteran who knows the Royals’ ways, and he can take prospects under his wing.
The KC Royals must sideline Danny Duffy for 2021 and re-sign him for 2022.
Most teams in Kansas City’s position would rightfully assume Duffy won’t be back next season. His contract is about to expire, he’s pitching better than he has in years, and he’s never tested free agency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that any team, including KC, would risk his arm simply because he’s apt to leave—it simply suggests most clubs would presume a pitcher of Duffy’s talent will seek greener pastures for next season and plan to field a team without him.
But Duffy isn’t like other pitchers. His desire for the Royals to be the only team he ever plays for is well known. Chances are he’ll take less money and fewer years to stay in Kansas City.
He’ll be an asset if he does, but one KC needs to preserve and protect between now and then. If this season is a true indication, Duffy appears to have conquered the inconsistency he hasn’t been able to shake since signing his five-year, $65 million contract in the winter of 2017, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue his excellence in 2022.
If he stays healthy, that is.
Because the Royals should want Duffy to return next year, they ought to be as cautious with his latest injury as they are with Bobby Witt Jr.’s progression. No good reason exists to risk further injury this season when they’ll need their lefthanded starter to be ready for 2022. Surely the Kansas City remembers 2019, when it brought Adalberto Mondesi back from a shoulder subluxation in September with the club headed for over 100 losses; he reinjured the shoulder and required surgery.
Kansas City needs to sideline Duffy for the rest of this campaign, then sign him to a new contract.
The KC Royals don’t need Danny Duffy to pitch again this season. They need him next year, so it’s best to shut him down and negotiate a new contract to keep him in Kansas City.