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Pricey free agent market could make Danny Duffy an attractive trade target

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ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports the Royals would like to get something for him.

Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

We thought this would be a very slow off-season for the Royals, but there have been enough rumors so far to at least make things interesting. The latest comes from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, one of the most well-sourced reporters in the industry. In his latest piece, Passan builds from his conversations with baseball executives to develop a list of players who may get traded this winter.

In one of the sections, labeled “we are talking about him a lot”, the first name Passan mentions is Royals pitcher Danny Duffy.

These are the guys who come up in conversation often, for varying reasons. Kansas City wants to take advantage of a pricey free-agent market and parlay Duffy and the remaining two years and $30.75 million on his deal into something.

This year’s free agent class is teaming with frontline aces like Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, and Madison Bumgarner. But it is a bit lighter in the middle class, with Jake Odorizzi, Drew Pomeranz, and Kyle Gibson already off the market. Teams looking to avoid a $100+ million contract or that miss out on a free agent may instead look for a shorter-term option like Duffy.

Duffy was a 1.8 WAR pitcher last year, according to Baseball Reference. In 23 starts, he had a 4.34 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings. The 30-year old left-hander has shown glimpses of brilliance throughout his career, punctuated by nagging injuries that have prevented him from ever making as many as 30 starts in a season. His inconsistent performance and injury history have led some to suggest he could move to the bullpen and become a dominant reliever. But his high salary that will pay him $15.25 million next year may keep him in the rotation. Duffy signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Royals in 2017. With just two years remaining on the deal, he may be more attractive than some of the longer obligations required to sign other free agents.

Passan also mentions Whit Merrifield, who has been subject to many rumors over the past year, including persistent chatter about the Cubs. Passan lists Merrifield under the category of “we don’t have to trade him but we’d be dumb not to listen.” Passan writes that dealing Merrifield before he declines “ akes too much sense not to explore” and cites a very team-friendly contract as an attractive selling point for the 30-year old second baseman.

If Merrifield’s former teammate Mike Moustakas is getting $64 million to play second base for four years in Cincinnati, teams are going to see Merrifield at $21 million over four years in an even better light.

The free agent market for second basemen this winter is very thin, with Jonathan Schoop, Starlin Castro, Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Brian Dozier, and Cesar Hernandez the most attractive names, with perhaps a reclamation project like Jason Kipnis or Joe Panik available. The Padres have already filled their need at second by acquiring Jurickson Profar from the Athletics, so any team looking for a second baseman may find limited options, which could benefit the Royals.