Royals Extension Candidate: Yordano Ventura


Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Thus far in my look at Royals who might receive contract extensions, I’ve written about Kelvin Herrera (here) and Lorenzo Cain (here). Next up is the man most-often mentioned in regards to these kinds of discussions.

Before he had finished a terrific rookie season, and before he threw seven shutout innings in the World Series with the Royals’ backs against the wall, fans were clamoring for the team to sign Yordano Ventura to a long-term contract extension. He’s been lighting up radar guns for a few years now, and the 2014 season showed a glimpse of what the future holds for the 23-year old Dominican.

Ventura pitched 183 innings with a 3.20 ERA last season, and he added another 25.1 innings in the playoffs, also with a 3.20 ERA. His strikeout numbers weren’t quite as high as some may have expected (7.8 K/9), but Ventura’s electric stuff kept hitters from squaring him up very often, and he posted a ground ball rate of 47.6%. He walked a few too many batters, although when he threw strikes, he dominated. Only 4 starters in the American League allowed less contact on pitches in the strike zone than Ventura.

He’s got a fastball that touches 100 MPH multiple times per night, a 90 MPH changeup, a hammer curve, and a developing cutter. He’s young. He’s under team control for 5 more years. He’s got a great personality off the field, and loads of swagger on it. Ventura has all of the characteristics of an ideal extension candidate. There’s basically only one manufactured reason for not extending Ventura, and it’s related to his durability.

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Some people see a guy who isn’t even six feet tall hitting triple digits consistently, and automatically assume he’s going to get injured. They don’t think he can hold up over a full season, and that he’s destined for some kind of injury. These default assumptions are, quite frankly, hogwash.

Yes, Ventura is an injury risk, but unless you’ve done some biomechanical studies on his delivery, you have no way of determining how big that risk is. For all we know, he may not be any more of a risk than any other pitcher.

From the naked eye, his delivery appears to be low-effort, and his stature doesn’t seem all that relevant. That’s my opinion, but I don’t have all the research to back it up. Likewise, assuming that being short means he’s going to get hurt is foolish without the necessary data. The Royals have an excellent training staff, and will make sure they do what they can to keep Ventura healthy for as long as possible.

So now that we see Ventura deserves an extension, let’s see how much that contract should be worth.

One name that gets thrown around quite a bit in regards to a Ventura extension is Julio Teheran. The Braves gave him a six-year, $32.4 million deal before last season. Teheran pitched briefly in the big leagues in 2011 and 2012, but in his first full season, he put up a 3.20 ERA over 185.2 innings. Sound familiar?

Teheran did have better strikeout and walk rates than Ventura, although pitching in the NL helps that to some degree. Both pitchers allowed a BABIP of .288 in their rookie years. Teheran had an xFIP of 3.76. Ventura had an xFIP of 3.74. Teheran’s swinging strike rate was 10.5%. Ventura’s was 10.3%. The similarities are kind of amazing.

Teheran had just turned 23, and had just over 1 year of service time before signing the extension, so the comparison makes a lot of sense. Here is how much Teheran will make in each year of his contract:

2014: $800,000
2015: $1,000,000
2016: $3,300,000
2017: $6,300,000
2018: $8,000,000
2019: $11,000,000

The Braves also hold a $12 million team option for 2020 with a $1 million buyout. Considering how similar the two pitchers’ performances were in their rookie seasons, I think that’s probably an appropriate offer. Well, it wouldn’t be exactly like the offer above, because they’d have to adjust the years to make it work, unless they have a time machine, in which case they need to go back to October and kidnap Madison Bumgarner.

The Royals would be buying out all three of Ventura’s arbitration years, and a year of his free agency, not including the option. I’d probably try to throw another team option on the back end, but that wouldn’t be a problem if Ventura refused. I think the Teheran deal looks extremely team-friendly, so if Ventura’s camp asks for a few extra million in the last two years, it would still be an acceptable deal for the Royals.  Locking up a potential ace for less than $6 million per year would be an absolute steal, even if it’s only for 1 extra year.

One other name I thought of while looking up numbers for this piece was Chris Archer of the Rays. Archer received a six-year, $25.5 million deal in April of last year, after throwing 128.2 innings with a 3.22 ERA in his rookie year. The Rays also have a pair of team options totaling $20 million that could keep Archer in Tampa through the 2021 season.

I’m sure the Royals would love to get Ventura to sign a contract like Archer’s, but Ventura is 3 years younger, and has 50 more innings under his belt than Archer had last year. They are similar pitchers, and I love the Archer deal for the Rays, but I just think it’s going to take more money to lock up Ventura.

Because he has so much going for him, why would Ventura want to sign an extension? If he remains productive and healthy, he’s likely going to make more money in arbitration than the contract would guarantee him, and he could hit free agency a year sooner, when he would be 28 years old. A young, frontline starter on the free agent market gets paid a lot of money. A lot.

Ventura would be giving up the opportunity for some extra money, but he would be receiving plenty of financial security in return. $33 million is a nice little payday as well, and if he does end up getting injured, or if his performance falls off, he’ll still be set up for a lifetime.

For the Royals, an investment of that much money in a pitcher could be scary, but it’s the kind of gamble they need to take. Finding pitchers with Ventura’s talent is hard. Finding pitchers with Ventura’s talent who are also in the Royals’ price range is even harder. They need to do what they can to lock his salaries in now, because if he follows the trajectory many expect, Ventura will get very expensive, very quickly.

Like with any pitcher, there is an injury risk with Ventura. I think that risk has been vastly overstated by some people, and that going year-to-year with him is a greater risk than signing him to an extension now. Offering a deal like the one given to Teheran would be fair, and would provide the team with a fixed cost for their number one starter to throw fire in a Royals uniform for the next six or seven years.