We've talked a lot about Yordano Ventura and his impressive start to the season quite a bit around these parts, and for good reason. Ventura looked impressive against the San Diego Padres last night, striking out ten while walking none over six innings. He surrendered a three-run bomb to Yasmani Grandal, but otherwise kept Padres hitters guessing.
The rookie has pitched in a very small number of MLB games, but the early returns have been promising: Below is a table with some his career numbers to date:
Ventura's stats are certainly nice to look at, but nine starts worth of data doesn't tell us a whole lot about the future. Still, Ventura's quick start as well as his status as a top prospect make it reasonable to be excited about his future performance.
The Royals will have Ventura under team control for the next six years, but it's not too early to think about signing the right-hander to a contract extension. For the right price, signing Ventura to an extension could be a wise decision that pays big dividends in the future. Kansas City could lock in how much money he will make during his arbitration years, which could get pricey if he turns into the pitcher we hope he does. The team could also buy out a few years of free agency with team options that would get exercised if Ventura stays healthy and effective.
Any potential extension, however, is contingent upon both sides being willing to negotiate a deal and agreeing to a fair price. The Royals have already signed some of their young players to extensions, and I assume want to lock up Ventura sometime in the near future. I have no idea if Ventura is interested in a deal, but a number of young pitchers have been willing to trade potential millions of dollars in the future for guaranteed money that is still life-altering.
Craig Edwards of Viva El Birdos created an awesome table of ten pitchers who have signed contract extensions before they were arbitration eligible over the past three seasons. These deals serve as a good baseline for a potential Ventura extension:
Player Date Extension (Years/Money) Service Time (Year.Days) Free Agent Years Bought fWAR at extension Agency Chris Archer 4/2/2014 6/25.5 0.156 2 1.7 Relativity Baseball Jose Quintana 3/24/2014 5/21 1.133 2 5.3 MDR Sports Mgmt Julio Teheran 2/14/2014 6/32.4 1.062 2 2.4 Relativity Baseball Chris Sale 3/7/2013 5/32.5 2.061 3 6.5 BB Abbot Madison Bumganer 4/16/2012 5/35 1.127 3 6.2 Relativity Baseball Jonathan Niese 4/7/2012 5/25.5 2.107 3 4.6 O'Connell Sp. Mgmt Corey Luebke 3/31/2012 4/12 1.033 1 2.3 Meister Sp Mgmt Derek Holland 3/20/2012 5/28.5 2.120 3 5.3 Martini Sp Mgmt Gio Gonzalez 1/15/2012 5/42 2.162 2 6.7 ACES Matt Moore 12/9/2011 5/14 0.017 2 0.4 Sosnick/Cobbe
One thing to note is the Extension (Years/Money) section of the table only includes guaranteed money; most of the deals have the potential to last longer and cost more money if the respective team's decide to pick up options.
Generally, the earlier the team signed a player to an extension, the less money they guaranteed the player. This makes sense; a team is taking more risk guaranteeing money to someone who has little major league experience. Edwards created a graph illustrating this relationship:
Like we always say here at Royals Review, Cardinals fans are the best. Anyways, the earlier the Royals and Ventura reach a possible contract extension, the less money the Royals will likely have to guarantee their starter.
Ventura's ceiling is as high as any of the pitchers who have signed an extension, so I would expect any potential deal signed this season to be near the six-year, $30 million figure. If the Royals wait to see Yordano pitch a season then extend him during the winter, he could command a contract near Bumgarner's 5/$35M contract.
Most of the contract extensions listed above were lauded by outsiders. Teams are taking relatively little monetary risk signing the young pitchers and and can end up receiving much more value than they paid for.
Still there is risk involved when signing players with little experience, especially pitchers. The pitcher can get hurt and never be the same again, or just lose effectiveness as the league starts to figure them out. Jason Collette of Fangraphs compiled a table of pitchers who signed long-term deals before reaching free agency and had those deals expire in 2013. Some of the deals worked out well for the teams, others not so much:
Pitcher Years $$ WAR Scott Baker 4 15.3 9.2 Nick Blackburn 4 14.0 -0.1 Gavin Floyd 4 15.5 13.5 Cole Hamels 3 20.5 11.7 Roberto Hernandez 4 17.8 4.0 Ubaldo Jimenez 4 14.8 18.7 Ian Snell 3 8.1 1.2 Total 26 105.9 58.2
I don't think Ventura will age two years and change names during his contract like Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez did or turn into Nick Blackburn, but not all pitcher contract extensions work out in the team's favor. It's difficult as a fan to think rationally about a Ventura extension when we are all caught up in the fever of watching him pitch so well. It's hard to imagine Ventura not being an amazing pitcher that should earn all of the money, but 2020 is a long ways off and it's nearly impossible to predict how well a player will perform that far down the road.
Still, the seven pitchers averaged around $1.8M per win, which is a much better dollars-to-win ratio than can be found on the open market. Ventura will provide an excellent dollars-to-win ratio regardless of a contract extension (assuming he pitches well the next three-to-five seasons), but I think the Royals should still take the chance and try to buy out some of Ventura's free agent years now, since that is likely the only way they can afford Ventura down the road if he develops into a top-flight pitcher.
I haven't heard any rumors and have zeroes of sources, but my educated guess is that the Royals and Ventura will agree to some sort of contract extension. The current administration has done a good job locking up Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar, plus Ventura did not receive a large signing bonus, like many of the Royals amateur draft picks did. Hopefully, the two sides can reach a deal that will benefit both parties and keep Ventura in Kansas City for the next 8-9 seasons.