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Should the Royals Bring Danny Duffy Back? It’s Complicated

Depending on multiple factors, it does make sense for the Royals to due their due diligence in regards to a player who has a lengthy history with the club.

Danny Duffy has never thrown a single pitch for any other MLB club than the Kansas City Royals. This offseason, both sides may have the opportunity to continue making that the case.

In 13 games (12 starts) with the Royals this season, Duffy turned in some of the best performances of his 11-year career. He posted a sparkling 2.51 ERA, an elite 184 ERA+ and struck out 65 hitters in 61 innings of work. His command was sharp, as was his confidence. Duffy was putting together a better season than just about anyone had expected.

Then he was injured.

A flexor strain in Duffy's arm caused him to land on the injured list in July, then he was traded at the deadline to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospect Zach Willeman. Duffy is from California, so many viewed this move as a favor for him. He'd be able to be closer to home and compete for a championship, and the Royals would net some sort of return for their longtime pitcher. The Dodgers went all the way to the National League Championship Series, but Duffy never appeared in a game for them.

Now, the lefty's future is unclear. Will his arm injury require surgery? When will he be ready to pitch again? Does he even want to pitch again? Is he a starter or a reliever at this stage in his career? Duffy turns 33 in December, so it's not like he's a young player anymore. Does he want to undergo another major procedure (he's already had one Tommy John Surgery) and deal with a grueling rehab process? How effective will he be when and if he returns? None of these questions surrounding the free agent have answers as of now.

Should the Royals consider bringing Duffy back for the 2022 campaign? I think so, depending on a few things. You may remember in the Inside the Royals mini-simulation of the Royals' offseason, I brought Duffy back on a one-year deal. That was under the assumption of several things, and those all apply here to answer the question for the real-life Royals:

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  • Duffy has to decide to return to baseball for a 12th season.
  • Duffy's recovery timeline has to end in him being ready to return by roughly the All-Star break.
  • The money has to be right (read, fairly inexpensive).
  • Duffy is coming back as a reliever, not a starter.

Let's peel these back, one by one. First, Duffy has to be at peace with remaining an MLB player and be at peace with rehabbing another injury in an attempt to face major league hitters again. That's far from a given, but he has yet to announce any potential retirement plans. If I had to bet on his future, I'd lean ever-so-slightly towards him playing again.

Once Duffy decides to keep playing, he has to choose between rest or surgery and subsequent rehab. He may have to go through that whole package. If it's Tommy John, the Royals should revisit this a year from now and see if he wants to pitch in his age-34 season in 2023. If it's something else, or even just rest, he has to have a plan to return to action a few months into the season at the latest. Paying a player who can't get on the field makes little sense, even if he can possibly make a late-season 2022 debut. Mid-July is the cutoff here.

Had Duffy finished out his 2021 campaign without getting hurt, he'd likely be in line for a pretty solid free agent contract spanning a few years. He didn't, though, and the five-year pact he signed with the Royals in 2017 for $65 million was his lone chance to cash out. If the current version of the club plans on a Duffy reunion, it should be paying for the current version of Duffy. That may not be a minimum contract, but it shouldn't be anything too extreme.

Lastly, the Royals don't need Duffy to continue being a starter for them. While the need for a veteran presence in the rotation is a need, that isn't good for Duffy's health. He can still provide mentorship in the clubhouse without attempting to eat up innings and remain durable. He's spectacular the first time through the order, so a future out of the bullpen would ensure he's still valuable and thriving while also having a better shot at avoiding injury. It would be the best course of action for everyone involved.

As you can tell, that's a lot of "if this happens, then..." going on. If the Royals are serious about contending as soon as 2022, adding Duffy back into the fold isn't as simple as calling him up, hearing he wants to be buried a Royal and agreeing to terms on a contract. There are multiple factors that should come into play before a decision is made. Duffy is a franchise legend and if he can contribute to winning baseball in 2022, it makes sense for a reunion to take place. Even then, the Royals' need to do their due diligence in regards to proper thought and planning is massive.

Read More: Putting Together a Blockbuster Trade Package With the Mets