It’s fun when a purely academic discussion actually winds up turning into a real, live rumor.
Yesterday, we talked about a trade proposal from ESPN, in which the Cubs would get 29-year-old lefty Danny Duffy from the Royals for 23-year-old stud utility-ish guy Ian Happ. And now today, Robert Murray reports that the Cubs actually do have interest in Duffy (and lefty Scott Alexander), and the Royals are “listening.”
Duffy, 29 later this month, is controlled for the next four years at a reasonable salary (an average of $15 million per year), and has been almost exclusively successful when healthy and when the Royals have given him time in the rotation. He was especially excellent in 2017, posting an ERA 14% better than league average, and a FIP 20% better. Better, there are a number of underlying reasons to believe the increasingly excellent performance is the product of real and sustainable changes in his game, as this FanGraphs piece from August lays out.
It’s not all roses and sunshine, as Duffy did have minor elbow surgery after the season, and saw his fastball velocity drop a couple clicks in 2017.
But, presuming there was comfort on the health front by the Cubs, that they would have interest in acquiring a pitcher like Duffy is almost self-explanatory.
The real question is the same as it was yesterday, even if now more abstract: is the value difference between Duffy (four years and $60 million) and Alex Cobb (four years and $60 million? five years and $75 million? (plus the Cubs’ second highest draft pick in 2018) great enough to justify pulling the trigger on a trade before Cobb signs?
In fact, I can’t help but wonder if this is the Cubs floating a rumor to put a little pressure on Cobb to seal the deal. Admittedly, that feels a little on the nose, but it’s possible given how similar the contract situations are expected to be.
The origin of the rumor doesn’t really matter anyway, because, as I said, the Cubs would clearly have interest in a pitcher like Duffy. Acquiring him probably shouldn’t cost Ian Happ or another of their controllable young position players … unless the Cubs were getting more.
To that end, it’s interesting that Murray also mentions Alexander, specifically. The 28-year-old lefty broke out as a reliever for the Royals in 2017, posting a nice 2.48 ERA over 69.0 innings, though the 20.9% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate are relatively mediocre. How’d he do it? With the 11th best soft contact rate among all relievers, and the BEST groundball rate – an obscene 73.8%. *WANT*
We’ll keep our eyes on this one to see if it goes anywhere, and I do think it remains more likely that the Cubs land a free agent like Cobb. But the Royals are rebuilding, and there’s an obvious fit here for something to happen.