Bobby Witt Jr. Signs Largest Contract in Royals History
The Kansas City Royals and star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. have announced they have agreed to an 11-year, $288.7 million extension as first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN.
The present, the future, and the largest contract in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/LpcUGPpzkj
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) February 5, 2024
It’s also been reported that Witt’s deal has opt-outs after the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th years of the contract. It also includes a three-year club option that can take the total value of the deal to 14 years and $377.7 million. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com included the detail that Witt’s deal includes a $7.7 million signing bonus. The deal is the largest contract in Royals history. The idea of an extension was initially rumored over the weekend in a report from Robert Murray of FanSided.
Witt, 24 in June, now factors to potentially be the Royals shortstop for his entire career as the base 11 years of the deal would take him through his age 34 season with the potential to play in Kansas City until he’s 37.
The time for an extension seemed primed for the Royals who have shown a desire to commit money to the roster to make a push in the American League Central. Witt would have been eligible for arbitration following the 2024 season, potentially triggering a desire to head to free agency after the 2026 season and be lured to another big market team, which could have potentially led the Royals to trade him. While a trade will always be possible and the desire to head to free agency is on the table thanks to the opt-outs several years down the road, the Royals have locked up their core star in the making for the best years of his young career.
In 2023, Witt gave the Royals plenty of reason to sign him to an extension. In his sophomore season in the big leagues, Witt slashed .276/.319/.495 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in 158 games. He led the league with 11 triples, while also totaling 28 doubles and driving in 96 runs. His 120 OPS+ led the Royals by a large margin while his 5.7 fWAR was 11th among all position players in MLB and third-most valuable among shortstops. A huge factor for Witt in his second season was that he cut his strikeout rate to 17.4%. His efforts landed him a seventh-place finish in the AL MVP voting.
It was an incredible showing for a young star in the making after a high-regarded fourth-place Rookie of the Year finish in 2022. As a rookie, Witt played 150 games and batted .254/.294/.428 with 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases. There was plenty of room for growth, but Witt was a special player who could be one of the all-time greats.
The signing of Witt to the extension does a few things for the Royals. On one hand, it’s a show of confidence from both sides in the other party. WItt is entrusting the best years of his career to the Royals in the hopes that they will continue on the roster construction trajectory they have been on this winter. The Royals have handed out over $100 million in contracts this offseason to free agents to help stabilize the roster. They have been active with a goal to compete in a weaker division. On the other hand, the Royals are aiming to keep a key player they are trying to build around and trust that he will continue to improve and play to an MVP-caliber level over the course of the contract and that he will choose to stay the entire length of the deal.
There is also a matter of the Royals trying to convince the public to vote to put $1 billion toward building a new stadium and baseball entertainment district that’s estimated to cost $2 billion.
Small-market teams like the Royals need to show that they are willing to commit big money to big-money talent. In signing Witt, after doing everything they have this offseason, it’s a testament to this fact. By signing Witt, the Royals are hoping to set themselves on a course to get out of the basement in the American League and get back to the success they found in 2014 and 2015 when they went to back-to-back World Series. There is still plenty of work to do for the team, however. While they have done much to bolster their roster this offseason, there are still questions about the quality of production they will get this season.
Pitching will be the biggest indication of whether or not the Royals can compete in 2024 and beyond. The Royals have focused on reinforcing their rotation and bullpen with veteran experience, but with a rotation and bullpen full of arms with ERAs projected over 4.00 doesn’t instill much confidence.
Looking to the future, the Royals are hoping that the signing of Witt will be enough of a catalyst to not only propel them forward but help them become an enticing place where better quality pitchers will want to come to play.
Witt is a young player with a bright future still well ahead of him, and the chance to stay with a single team for his entire career was something he desired. The Royals did right by him and now have one of the best young stars in the game locked up for many years to come.