The future was more than just bright for Danny Duffy as 2017 dawned. Pitching superbly for a 2016 KC Royals team that finished third in the American League Central after winning two straight American League pennants and the 2015 World Series, Duffy became the presumptive Royal ace by going 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA, the best performance of his six big league seasons.
Realizing that unless they signed him to a long-term deal he'd probably test free agency when the 2017 season ended, the Royals stepped up and gave him a five-year, $65 million deal not long before spring training began.
Sadly, Duffy never turned in as fine a full season as he did in 20216, and his terrific start to the 2021 campaign fizzled out when left flexor issues prematurely ended his season. Curiously, those injuries didn't prevent the Dodgers from trading for him in July, but he didn't throw a single big league pitch for them that season. He worked in only seven minor league games in 2022, then appeared 28 times in Texas' minor league system last year. He then became a free agent.
Motivated primarily by the strength of his respectable 2-2, 3.28 2023 record, I wrote back in November that Duffy might be a risk worth taking for the Royals, who then needed all the pitching they could get. Assuming the club would hedge any Duffy bet it might make with an inexpensive minor league contract, I opined he'd come cheap, potentially making a roll of the dice on him a low-risk, potentially high-reward proposition.
A Duffy-Royals reunion, though, won't happen — the Rangers, obviously impressed by what they saw last year, brought Duffy back Monday on a minor league deal and an invitation to spring training. But could signing Duffy have worked for the Royals?
A Danny Duffy return would have been problematic
Consideration of a potential Duffy reunion assumes (without knowing) that both pitcher and club had some interest in making a deal, which in this case seems plausible — Duffy is, after all, the man who included his well-known "Bury me a Royal" sentiment in a post-trade farewell to KC fans, and Kansas City management has a long history of welcoming players working their way back from injuries and hard times.
What I wrote about Duffy in November made sense then, but doesn't anymore; it lost its foundation even before Texas signed him earlier this week. General manager J.J. Picollo's transformation of KC's pitching staff, a process that really began last June when he acquired Cole Ragans in the Aroldis Chapman trade with Texas, then continued this winter with the Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Will Smith, and Chris Stratton deals, left little room on the roster for Duffy. Picollo may still be looking for a closer, but Duffy probably isn't a prime candidate for such a job.
And coupled with the crowd of other, and in many cases, younger, KC pitchers vying for for major league jobs, the returns of Daniel Lynch IV, presumably ready to pitch again after missing most of last season with shoulder issues, and Kris Bubic who should be back from Tommy John Surgery by midseason, compound the problem of finding Duffy a spot to audition for when spring training starts next week.
So, even if Duffy and the Royals entertained the notion of him returning to the franchise he called home for so long — an event many fans would have welcomed — and even if he performed well this spring, squeezing him onto the Opening Day roster would have been difficult.
That could change, of course, if Texas decides Duffy doesn't fit their plans and the Royals develop an opening or two. One never knows...