While the Royals began the year well, their performance has dropped off precipitously over the past couple months. They’ll come out of the All-Star Break a dismal 36-53, sitting in last place in the AL Central. Despite making some efforts last offseason to compete, the Royals have fallen flat.
With a postseason berth obviously out of the question, Kansas City would seem to be an obvious seller. However, the bulk of the roster is either controllable next season or performing badly enough to mute potential trade chatter (i.e. Jorge Soler, Greg Holland and Wade Davis). As a franchise, the Royals have shied away from a full-scale teardown and rebuild, so it might be a relatively quiet deadline season in K.C.
The Royals do have one impending free agent having a strong season, though: Danny Duffy. That’d generally make him a straightforward trade candidate, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that some rival executives do indeed expect the 32-year-old to change uniforms in the coming weeks. Certainly, Duffy’s 2.53 ERA/4.09 SIERA across 57 innings suggest he’d be an upgrade for most or all contenders’ rotations.
Duffy’s situation, though, could make a trade more difficult to pull off than appears at first glance. A flexor strain in his forearm knocked him out of action for more than a month earlier in the year. Duffy returned in late June, and he’s progressively building his workload at the major league level rather than embarking on a rehab assignment. He’s only once worked more than four innings since being activated, topping out at five frames and 77 pitches on July 8 against the Indians. There’s still a little more than two weeks before the deadline for him to continue to build back up, but some clubs might still harbor concerns about Duffy’s ability to shoulder a regular starter’s workload in the second half.
There’s also the personal implications to consider. Duffy’s a career-long Royal who hasn’t been shy about voicing his affinity for the organization in the past. He also exceeded ten years of major league service time last month. Players with ten years of MLB service, the past five of which have come with their current team, are entitled to full no-trade protection. If Duffy is completely set on finishing the year in Kansas City, he can block any deal. Sherman hears that Duffy, a California native, would prefer to be dealt to a West Coast club if he’s moved; that could suggest he’d be willing to waive his no-trade rights to facilitate the right deal, but it’s not entirely clear whether he’d need some type of concession to do so or whether he’d only approve a trade that involved a West Coast destination.
Duffy’s impending free agency adds another factor to the situation. A midseason trade wouldn’t foreclose the Royals from pursuing Duffy as a free agent this winter. Indeed, the organization has shown a proclivity for bringing back players — Holland, Davis, Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Jarrod Dyson among them — who were one-time Royals who had since gone elsewhere. A trade could allow Kansas City to recoup some prospect value and give Duffy an opportunity to play in a 2021 pennant race without preventing the sides from reuniting in 2022.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the demand from contenders will be sufficient to make that kind of deal worthwhile. It’s also still an open question whether Duffy’s amenable to a midseason move, making his trade candidacy more complicated than is normal for impending free agents having productive seasons for non-contending teams.