Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yordano Ventura & Overblown Super Two Concerns

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.

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  • Michael Engel

    I’ve seen Clint Scoles talking about this on Twitter the last couple weeks, but purely from a competitive standpoint. I see three directions – 1) Ventura can start right away and is who we expect him to be, that is, the changeup works, his cutter works, and the fastball and curve are both plus pitches. The Royals benefit from having his arm for 175-180 innings, he’s a top choice for ROY and this offseason, they avoid worrying about his service time by offering him a deal. 2) He doesn’t cut it as a starter after a real shot, they move him to the bullpen where he’s the heir to Holland’s closing role, which allows them to still make him an offer like this but at least they work him in the bullpen after learning if he can actually start or not, his innings stay down and they still offer him an extension to control his costs. 3) He stinks completely so any worrying about his service time is moot because he stinks.

    I guess there can be more than three directions but the benefits of a dynamic arm up in the bigs most of the year outweigh worrying about service time, especially when it seems like it’d be easy to get around that with a deal.

    • jessanders

      If he ends up in the bullpen then GMDM’s head should be on a platter.

      We can’t keep losing our starting pitching prospects to the bullpen (Smith, Crow) or have them fail completely.

      We need Ventura to be in the top 3 or 4 voting for ROY to compete this year, and I really think we need the rotation to include him AND Duffy to really have a shot… But Moore/Yost put a spoiler on that by guaranteeing Chen a rotation spot.

      It doesn’t really matter who the 5th starter is, if the first four are Shields, Vargas, Guthrie and Chen, it’s hard to see the team competing.

      • cardsfanatik

        I agree, I would more like to see Shields, Duffy, Guthrie, Ventura, Vargas. My thinking on this rotation is splitting up Duffy and Ventura with innings guys. It really doesn’t have a huge effect on the starters, but it will have a huge impact on the BP. Especially if Duffy still can only throw 5 innings, you don’t want Duffy and Ventura back to back. You could even go Shields, Ventura, Guthrie, Vargas, Duffy. There are many ways you can spin it, just so long as there is a guy that can go more than 5 innings in between Duffy and Ventura, and I was thinking of splitting up the lefties, since we all know Deadhead Ned’s love affair with the whole L/R/L/R thing.

        • bret

          Chen seems to be a lock for #4 with Duffy odd man out. I would be okay with a six man deal where if we get to july/august and ventura is on innings limit, duffy jumps in or hell let wade toss a ballgame (shudders) to give him a break IF he needs it. if we’re in July and he’s got a 5+ ERA (ventura), then he’s getting shipped to AAA and we’re not talking about service time or innings limits anyway. Vargas is going to be better than billed, but the chen/guthrie combo is worrisome and hopefully duffy/dwyer are actually ready to go by august.

          One thing I like is the diversity of arms we have starting. They’re all very unique, Chen is not Shields is not Guthrie is not Ventura is not Vargas.

      • bret

        Totally. Last year September was his try out, and he blew away expectations. I felt like he earned his rotation spot long ago, and my money is he’s our 2nd best arm this season.

  • jimfetterolf

    The three reasons for Ventura in Omaha to start are service time, polish, and innings, Omaha getting a later start and easier to game innings in the minors so that when Ventura comes up he has enough left for a playoff run. Spring training will tell us whether Ventura needs polish, it will also tell us if the Royals have enough pitching to be able to take Ventura slow.

    I do agree with the extension offer and he’s not the only one, which is why I’ve had little interest in signing a #2 starter to a big four year contract.

    • bret

      The innings issue is real. 100mph fastballer needs to work up to 200+ innings, but let’s give him April to make sure we’re not sacrificing the front end for a back end that isn’t promised anyway.

  • moretrouble

    Excellent research, Hunter. My guess is they’ll give Ventura an opportunity to win a starting job in ST. If he wins a rotation spot, they may very well send him to Omaha until late April when they need a fifth starter. And, they could possibly stretch that date into May. But, I’ve given up trying to predict what the front office will do. I haven’t been right yet, LOL.

  • bret

    This is my litmus test for GMDM. If Wade or Hoch are in the rotation, he’s undebatably bonkers. It’s so clear that they are extreme assets out of the pen, and they are nothing but a risk in the starting rotation. Yordano is a difference maker, flat out, and it’s time to start using our players to the best of their abilities.

    I watched nearly every game last year, and the most treacherous times were consistently when Wade was on the mound. I have zero confidence in him, but he’s a bullpen-beast.

  • bret

    Ventura needs to be there because he’s our ace in 2015. When Shields is gone and we’re left with Guthrie/Vargas leading the charge, the top of our rotation is hurting. What we have now is an ace in shields, 3 guys who are truly at best #3/4 guys in Guthrie/Vargas/Chen with no real upside to become and ace, and a bunch of wild cards (ventura, duffy, dwyer, hoch, wade – in order of my perceived potential). One of those wild cards needs to grow into a true 1 or 2 following Shields, and ready to take his place in 2015.