As Danny Duffy prepares to take the hill against the Tigers and Anibal Sanchez on Thursday afternoon, he will do so with the confidence of having been very good as a starter since returning from Tommy John surgery last year. He’s thrown 78.1 innings in 19 games (13 starts) since returning from his year-long injury exile and seems to be getting better with each pitch thrown. As a starter this season, Duffy has thrown 45.2 innings in eight starts, and that includes one start that only lasted four innings because he wasn’t stretched out enough to get any deeper in the game. If you take that start out, he’s one out shy of averaging six innings per start, which is something that was always a question with Duffy.
The big question with Duffy throughout his career has been pitch efficiency. In the first 31 starts of his career, Duffy was only able to go 157.1 innings and averaged 18.8 pitches per inning. That is not good, and it was a question that led the Royals to go out and sign Bruce Chen to fill one of the rotation spots. I think at the time, the thought was that if Duffy was going to be a contributor to the Royals in 2014, it would be out of the bullpen. You may even recall that when I spoke to him at spring training, he mentioned that he’d rather be a reliever. After seeing him in struggle in spring training combined with what he told me, I was sure he would spend 2014 as a big league reliever more than anything else.
But then Bruce Chen went down with an injury, and Danny Duffy was pressed into action. He pitched fine against the Tigers on May 3, but as I mentioned before, was limited. Then I was in Seattle for his next start, and it was ugly to start, but he really righted himself and ended up going six innings and giving up just two hits while throwing only 88 pitches. That was the game when the Duffy evolution began, I think. His next start, he took a perfect game through 6.2 innings and looked as dominant as I’d ever seen him. He followed that up with two rough starts, but has since been better, going 18.2 innings in his last three starts and giving up just three runs on 11 hits. All three runs came in a sixth inning against the Yankees where a lot of Duffy’s previous issues caught up with him. In those three starts, he’s averaged 15.2 pitches per inning. His last start against the White Sox might be the best start he’s ever had. He went seven innings, gave up just five hits and walked one while striking out 9. He also averaged just 14 pitches per inning. It was really a sight to see.
So now the Royals are faced with a bit of a conundrum. Danny Duffy will go into the 2015 season as a 26 year old left-handed starter still loaded with upside but now has results to go with that upside. Duffy will also go into the 2015 season as an arbitration eligible pitcher, who could command a pretty decent salary, assuming the rest of his 2014 goes well. Obviously, we’re probably a little premature in this discussion, but I think it’s worth thinking about early. I think the Royals would do well to sign Duffy to a deal to buy out his arbitration years and one or two of his free agent seasons. You may recall awhile back when Danny Duffy was professing his love for the Royals that he uttered the phrase, “bury me a Royal.” I’m not sure a new contract should ensure that will happen, but I do think it would be nice to get him signed to a nice cost controlled deal that gives both sides some financial stability.
So where do the Royals even start with Duffy when it comes to putting together a contract. I think for starters, we know the deal has to be at least four years long so it covers at least one of Duffy’s free agent seasons, but I’d be willing to go up to five or at the very least I’d go four years with an option year. Looking at some of the top young pitchers in the league, a few notable extensions pop up that could be used as a framework to get Duffy signed.
- Chris Archer signed his deal prior to this season and is a six year deal worth $25.5 million with team options in 2020 and 2021. Archer’s deal bought out two cost controlled years as well as his arbitration years, so it’s not a perfect match, but his $4,750,000, $6,250,000 and $7,500,000 amounts in his arbitration years are an interesting place to start. I’d think Duffy could be had for a bit less than that, but maybe not too much.
- Madison Bumgarner‘s deal with the Giants went into effect during his last year of pre-arb baseball, and his would-be arbitration years were bought out at $3.75 million, $6.75 million and $9.75 million. Bugarner was far more accomplished than Duffy at the time of his deal, so I think his second and third year arbitration numbers were inflated over what Duffy could get.
- Johnny Cueto signed an extension prior to the 2011 season, which would have been his first abitration eligible season. in those first three years of the deal, he was paid $3.4 million, $5.4 million and $7.4 million and is making $10 million this year in what would be his first free agent season and has a $10 million option next year. Cueto was far more accomplished than Duffy, but the contract was signed prior to the 2011 season, so inflation may make this deal a pretty decent match.
- Matt Moore is an interesting look because he signed his deal after just one big league start, so the first three years bought out pre-arb years. The total value was five years for $14 million with three club options. His arbitration years are $3 million, $5 million and a $7 million option. The two options for his free agent years are for $9 million and $10 million. This is a great deal for the Rays even with Moore’s injury.
- Jon Niese‘s deal with the Mets that he signed prior to the 2012 season will also be an interesting one the Royals could look at. He signed a five year deal prior to the 2012 season for $25.519 million. That bought out one year of pre-arb for him, but the three would-be arbitration years cost the Mets $3 million, $5 million and $7 million with the free agent year coming in at $9 million. His two options were for $10 and $11 million.
- Jose Quintana‘s deal with the White Sox might be close to perfect framework for a Duffy deal. He’ll be getting $3,400,000, $5,400,000 and $7,000,000 in his three would-be arbitration years and $8,850,000 in his first free agent year with two team options for 2019 and 2020. The total value is for five years and $26,5 million.
- Julio Teheran signed his contract extension after a stellar rookie season and it was for a total of six years and $32.4 million. His would-be arbitration years were bought out at $3.3 million, $6.3 million and $8 million. One free agent year was bought out at $11 million with an option set at $12 million. Like Bumgarner, Teheran’s great rookie year probably made his final two arbitration years more expensive than Duffy’s should be.
So here’s how those seven deals averaged for the three arbitration years:
- Arb 1: $3,514,285
- Arb 2: $5,728,571
- Arb 3: $7,664,285
Using those averages, Danny Duffy could stand to expect about $17 million for his three arbitration years, but there’s a lot of risk with a guy like Duffy, so I might drop it a little and go $16 million for the three arbitration years and then I’d say maybe $9 million for the first free agent year followed by an team option for $12 million with a $1 million buyout. The end result is a four year, $26 million contract for Duffy that could end up at 5 years and $37 million.
- 2015: $3 million
- 2016: $5.5 million
- 2017: $7.5 million
- 2018: $9 million
- 2019: $12 million ($1 million buyout)
That contract looks about right to me. It’s the perfect amount of risk on the Royals end to make it enticing to Duffy’s camp, and it has just enough potential to be an insanely good deal for the Royals that they would be interested in that as well. Hopefully Duffy continues to pitch well enough to make this an argument worth having, but either way, the future of the Royals looks better with a good Danny Duffy pitching at the top of the rotation.
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