Much has been made of the competition for the Royals’ fifth starter role that is going to take place when Spring Training kicks off later this week. We’ve talked pretty extensively about it here, so you should be aware of the contenders, which is why I won’t break that down today. You’ll get plenty of analysis on those pitchers in the next few weeks. What I do want to talk about is an argument against Yordano Ventura that I’ve seen from fans, suggesting that the team needs to game his service time and keep Ventura in Omaha for a period of time to prevent him from qualifying for Super Two status in a couple of years.
Quite frankly, that argument is a terrible one.
There are a few reasons why I find this point so foolish, but first, let’s clarify what Super Two means for those unaware. It’s any player with between 2 and 3 years of service time who was in the majors for at least 86 days in the previous season, and who is in the top 22% in service time among players in that 2-3 years range. Those players, like Eric Hosmer this year, are eligible for an additional year of arbitration, which allows them to make more money, sooner. It also means teams would be paying more money, sooner.
The Super Two deadline varies from year to year, but in the last three years the cutoff has been:
2011 – 2 years, 146 days (written as 2.146)
2012 – 2 years, 139 days
2013 – 2 years, 122 days
For Ventura, his service clock has already started – he has 13 days of service time – so he is currently projected to be arbitration-eligible after the 2016 season and a free agent after the 2019 season. However, the Royals could keep him in the minors for a month to gain an extra year of team control, which is a pretty standard practice for lots of teams around baseball. Let’s say the Royals do keep Ventura in Omaha until May. Now, if Ventura does not return to the minors, he would likely have somewhere around 2.150 years of service time (there are 172 days in the MLB season, and around 183 calendar days) following the 2016 season, which means he would likely qualify for Super Two status. It’s almost impossible to tell right now, but since speculating is fun, let’s assume the cutoff after the 2016 season is going to be 2.120 years. If the Royals want to keep Ventura from becoming a Super Two player, they’ll need to keep him in the minors for at least another month, but probably even longer, just to be sure. Now you’re looking at a mid-June or July debut. A team that is in rebuilding mode can afford to keep one of its top prospects, and one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, in AAA for that long.
The Royals simply can’t.
This Royals team is already going to be fighting an uphill battle to keep pace with the Tigers in the AL Central. They are going to have a very small margin for error, and as we saw last season, one bad month can have a hugely negative impact on the team’s playoff hopes. The 2014 season will be a very important one for the Royals, and they need to primarily focus on winning this season, instead of being concerned with saving a couple million dollars in 2017. If Ventura starts the year in Omaha, and it looks like he is needed in the big leagues before the end of April, the organization absolutely should call him up without thinking twice about it. I’ve said before I think they need to start the season with Ventura in the rotation, because his upside in 2014 is too enormous to ignore. As it stands right now, the Royals’ front office may actually agree with that.
The Kansas City Star’s Vahe Gregorian wrote an article over the weekend, in which he quoted Dayton Moore as suggesting Ventura will likely break camp as a part of the pitching staff. I think we have to take those words with a grain of salt, and even if he is in Kansas City, there apparently is a chance he’s in the bullpen (which I think would be a mistake for this year). Still, perhaps Moore’s comments do indicate he realizes that this season has to be about winning now, and Ventura’s arm cannot be left in the minors when the major league rotation is so lacking in upside.
So we obviously see that the Super Two argument would result in keeping Ventura off the big league club for too long this season, and the Royals can’t afford to go that long without him. Even keeping him in Omaha for a month to gain the extra year of service time could be too risky, especially when there is a much simpler solution.
If Ventura pitches like he’s capable of in 2014, why not offer him a contract extension and avoid the arbitration process altogether?
I understand the Royals would like to keep their costs low, but if Ventura shows his potential now, the cost to retain him is only going to increase. Locking up Ventura to a reasonable contract would insure he is financially secure, while also keeping the risk to the Royals relatively low. It would probably take something beyond the contract given to Salvador Perez, but I doubt they would need to get too crazy with it. Ventura signed with the Royals for $28,000 in 2008, so one could assume he may not require a massive paycheck in order to buy out his arbitration years. Perhaps something like 6 years, $18 million with a couple of team options on the end could work, although that’s more of just a ballpark figure. Even if the Royals need to add more dollars, that’s still a financial risk they can afford to take. If the young Dominican shows how well he can perform, signing him to an extension makes too much sense to not pursue.
I would entertain an argument that Ventura is not ready to pitch in the major leagues, although I would vehemently disagree. His stuff is electric, and he has already indicated he’s added a cutter to his repertoire (although Brooks Baseball shows that Ventura threw a cutter in 2013, so take that for what it’s worth), giving him another option with which to make opposing hitters look absolutely silly. I think he’s definitely ready, but suggesting he needs to refine his command and polish his changeup a bit more at least makes more sense than the argument that the Royals need to focus on Ventura’s potential Super Two status. This season needs to be about winning, and Ventura gives the team a better chance of doing that than just about any other pitcher in the organization. Avoiding the extra year of arbitration, while sacrificing wins this season, isn’t a plan for success.