Danny Duffy

It’s Time to Reward Danny Duffy

Where would the Royals be without Danny Duffy? I imagine they’d be farther out of first place than they are right now and not hovering around .500. Rather, they’d probably be in the midst of their worst season since 2012 without any hope for the postseason. You may think they don’t have much hope as is, but it would be even more difficult to envision if Duffy wasn’t around.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’d work out a deal for Duffy to keep him in Kansas City beyond next season when he’s eligible for free agency, so let’s get into that a little bit here to see what it might look like. I think we know that Duffy would like to be in Kansas City. He said it very clearly in an interview with Soren Petro on The Program on 810 the other day, and he’s said it other times before.

The reason I think it’s a worthwhile risk to give Duffy an extension at this point, even when he wasn’t even a starter to begin the 2016 season is that there’s definitely value with him no matter what the deal. We’ve seen that he can excel as a starter and we’ve seen that he can excel as a reliever. I don’t think anyone doubts that the Royals pitching staff is better with Duffy than without it, as long as he’s in the right role.

At this moment, I believe the rotation is where he belongs. It’s plain to see that he’s become a different pitcher this time around. Take a look at his stats since moving back into the rotation. Keep in mind that the innings numbers include a few starts where he was stretching his pitch count.

12 GS, 5-1, 3.34 ERA, 70 IP, 59 H, 80 K, 13 BB

Since his pitch count was stretched enough that he could be reasonably expected to pitch six or more innings, this is what he’s done:

9 GS, 5-1, 3.30 ERA, 57.1 IP, 49 H, 67 K, 11 BB

He’s averaging a touch more than 6.1 innings per start. He’s the only Royals starter to throw a pitch in the ninth this year, and he’s pitched six or more innings in seven of those nine starts. The only issue he’s had is with the home run ball, but that’s partially a product of throwing as many strikes as he has.

I think a deal can get done, but it’s going to require quite a few incentives because of the fact that we’re still learning whether or not his time in the rotation can be for the long-term. My gut says to start with a base of something like four years and $30 million. He’s making $4,225,000 this year, so an arbitration raise would likely take him to $7 million or so, given how he’s pitched. It might even be higher, but in my scenario, they’re offering him this deal today, so he doesn’t have time to pad his numbers more. I’d structure the deal with the guaranteed money coming like so:

2017 – $6.5 million
2018 – $7.5 million
2019 – $8 million
2020 – $8 million

This is where the incentives comes in. One of the main reasons why I want to give Duffy a deal is because we know he can be effective as a reliever, so if the starting thing starts to falter again, there’s a contingency. The above salaries are in line with what a good reliever would make, so that mitigates the risk from the Royals end. It also provides a pitcher who has already had Tommy John with $30 million guaranteed and the chance to earn more with a team he loves.

So, as a starter, here are my incentives:

125 innings – $1 million
150 innings – $1.25 million
175 innings – $1.75 million
200 innings – $3 million

This means that he can earn between $13.5 million and $15 million over the four years of his deal. But you’ll need relief incentives too, if he becomes the closer (which I think he could).

30 games finished – $250k
40 games finished – $750k
50 games finished – $2 million

There really aren’t many comps for this kind of deal. Most teams don’t give relatively lengthy extensions or contracts to pitchers who they don’t really know where they’ll end up, so it’s a little bit odd. Back in the midst of Duffy’s breakout season in 2014, I looked at Jose Quintana of the White Sox as a comp. His deal isn’t perfect because it was signed so far from free agency, but his final arbitration year came in at $8.35 million with his first free agent year at $10.5 million. Duffy can out-earn that in my scenario if he reaches his incentives.

If you’re not into the incentives thing, the Indians might have put the framework out there for a deal with what they gave Carlos Carrasco following his breakout 2014 season. It was earlier in the arbitration cycle than Duffy is right now, but he started the season in the bullpen that year before heading to the rotation and looking like a top of the rotation starter. He was given $6.5 million for what would have been his final year of arbitration, $8 million for his first free agent year and a $9 million club option for the year after that. That jives pretty well with the deal above for Duffy, but without the innings incentives. His incentives are based on finishes in the Cy Young vote, so I’m still feeling pretty comfortable with what I’ve put above.

The Royals actually do the starter/reliever incentives quite a bit, though it’s usually with pitchers who don’t have much of a shot to pitch out of either spot. Interestingly enough, Joakim Soria and Luke Hochevar both have incentives for either role. The difference is that Duffy could actually thrive as starter or reliever, while the only start I could see either Soria or Hochevar getting is if it’s a bullpen game and they’re only scheduled for two innings. But I digress.

I think given the track record, there’s risk on both ends, but this one seems to help avoid that for both parties and could be a really attractive offer for both Duffy and the Royals. Now if they could just get it done this week before he starts to command millions more, that would be ideal.

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