The Royals rumors came fast and furious on Wednesday, mostly centered around Danny Duffy.
Danny Duffy extremely popular on trade market. KC seriously thinking about trading.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 13, 2017
We have a bit of an inferiority complex in Kansas City. That’s okay to admit, I think. We’re one of the smallest markets in baseball and spent a sizable portion of the last 30 years getting kicked around by just about everyone else. “Why would anyone want to play in Kansas City?”
When Dayton Moore arrived, he talked not only of building the farm system, but he talked about building a culture. It may sound trite, but it was important to him that the Royals stop cutting costs and corners and do things the right way. We saw the results. Kansas City won, and it moved from a baseball backwater to a desirable destination. Fans embraced the players. The players returned the affection.
No one has been more outspoken about his love for Kansas City and the Royals than Danny Duffy. And to know Duffy, these aren’t just words he’s throwing around. When he tweets “Bury me a Royal” he is being sincere.
Wednesday, Duffy went a little further, than just his usual #burymearoyal sentiment. He professed his love for the team and the city. It was a bit strange, given at this point we’re talking about rumors, the messages had more of a vibe of someone who is one the way to a new destination. I’m not going to rehash the whole Twitter saga here. I’ll leave those clicks to The Kansas City Star.
The question Moore and his advisors have to ask at this point is, does it make sense to trade Duffy? The answer, in my opinion, is absolutely. With some explanation.
First, the Royals are in a total and absolute position of power. Duffy is under contract for the next four years. It’s not often a pitcher with the track record of Duffy is cost controlled in what should be the prime years of his career. And with $60 million owed over that time, he’s inexpensive considered what a team would have to pay for his services if he were a free agent on the open market. That means, the Royals should aim high and hold fast. There is no reason for them to pull the trigger on a deal unless all of their demands are met. All of them. If they don’t like the market for Duffy today, they can explore trading him during the season. Or they can hope he builds on his value with a stellar 2018 and then they can revisit the discussion next winter. Sure, it would be with one less year on the contract, but if he has a strong year, at that point three years is just as good as four from the Royals perspective.
Second, the Royals have to decide what kind of rebuild they are going to undertake. Will it be an organic one, where they lose various players one by one when it generally makes sense to deal them away? That brand of rebuild could take some time. We’re talking less about trades where you bring in prospects and more draft picks you get from when free agents depart.
Trading a quality and cost-controlled starting pitcher like Duffy could accelerate the process. By quite a bit. The comparable deals that spring to mind are the Jose Quintana one between the White Sox and the Cubs or the Chris Sale deal where he changed his Sox from Chicago to Boston. This isn’t to say Duffy is in the same tier of left-handed starting pitcher. Quintana has been worth 10.4 WARP the last three seasons, Sale is at a whopping 19.8 WARP. Duffy, meanwhile, checks in at a 5.4 WARP. But what Duffy has in his (and the Royals) favor is the length of his remaining contract. Quintana was traded with two and a half years remaining on his and Sale had two. Duffy has four years left.
That means at a minimum the Royals should ask for a pair of top five prospects from a deep organization. We are talking two premium prospects. Adding something like that return to a farm system currently lacking a consensus top 100 prospect? Now you’re shaving time off the rebuilding process.
One thing to keep in mind is the optics of not just trading away a player who clearly loves the city and the organization. The Royals would be dealing a player they signed to an extension just a year ago on very team-friendly terms. Yes, baseball is a business, but that’s a rather abrupt about face, something that would most certainly be noticed around the league. The Royals have made great strides in repairing the reputation of the franchise that was largely destroyed when David Glass assumed control. While a Duffy trade wouldn’t undo everything that has been built over the last 10 years, it would certainly signal a bit of a reversal for a team that has largely done the right thing since then.
And make no mistake. Just because the volume of rumors is increasing, it doesn’t mean a trade is imminent. As mentioned before, the Royals will be – and should be – asking for a large return. Deals like this take some time to execute. And again, as mentioned above, this isn’t something the Royals have to do at this point. This isn’t the Zack Greinke situation where a player didn’t want to be in the organization. Quite the opposite, actually.
This could devolve into a messy situation. The Royals have to be careful here or they risk alienating not just Duffy and his teammates, but the entire fanbase. Nobody wants to have to pick sides in what could be a messy breakup.
Sometimes, though, you have to do the right thing.