Many years ago, in the early winter of 2017 when times were better for him and the team, Danny Duffy and the KC Royals stood together at a bit of a crossroads. After his excellent 12-3, 3.51 2016 season, and with his free agency eligibility kicking in following the soon-to-start 2017 campaign, the Royals wanted to secure his services for the long term.
Making their mission more urgent was the certainty that free agency would break up much of the club's 2015 World Series championship core at the end of the coming season; together with Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar were all slated to become free agents.
So, with a winner-take-all arbitration hearing looming, the Royals made their move and signed Duffy to what was then, but wouldn't necessarily be now, a huge contract,one obligating them to pay their lefthanded starter $65 million over five years.
But things didn't work out as the parties had envisioned. Beset by the frustrating inconsistency that's become an all-too-familiar characteristic of too many Kansas City starters, Duffy went 28-32, 4.42 over the first four years of his five-season deal before two bouts with left flexor issues forced him to the Injured List twice and ruined what had started as a superb 2021 season. Nevertheless, the Dodgers traded for him while he was sidelined; he never worked in the majors for LA, and spent this most of this season pitching for Texas' Double-A team.
And it's what he did in the Texas League that suggests Duffy might —might — be a risk worth taking for the Royals.
Kansas City doesn't have much to lose by signing Danny Duffy
Just a couple of weeks past the six-year anniversary of closing his mega-deal with Kansas City, Duffy, who'd last thrown a big league pitch in July of 2021, signed a minor league contract with the Rangers in January. Initially assigned to their Triple-A club, he debuted at Double-A Frisco June 3, later pitched four games in Triple-A, then returned to Frisco where he spent the rest of the summer.
And put up some good numbers.
Frisco used Duffy exclusively in relief, and over 24 appearances he posted a nice 31.1-inning 2.30 ERA, struck out 39 (11.20 K/9), held opponents to a .202 average, and didn't allow any home runs.
On the other hand, his control needs work: he walked 21.
But Duffy's good outweighed his bad, and although he surrendered five earned runs in the 4.1 frames he pitched in Triple-A, his 2023 body of work suggests he's worth a look for 2024, and he checks some boxes for the Royals.
First, of course, is the decent (albeit minor league) season he had. Duffy clearly progressed after not pitching much for almost two years, and may well have something good to give a Kansas City club woefully short on pitching. The only way the Royals will know is to give him a try.
Then there's the Royals' all-encompassing familiarity with Duffy. They know how he pitches, how he goes about his work, how he fits within the organization. Kansas City is a franchise focused on ability and player makeup, and an organization Duffy knows well.
He could also be a good gate draw. Duffy has always been popular in Kansas City.
Finally, the risk is so low — Duffy will come cheap, especially if he's signed to a minor league contract laden with incentives if he makes it back to the majors. And if he doesn't, the Royals are out only the price of a minor league salary.
In other words, the club has nothing much to lose if a Duffy-Royals reunion fails, but a lot to gain if it succeeds.