In Bobby Witt Jr. extension, Royals sign release ‘they can start dreaming a little bit’

In Bobby Witt Jr. extension, Royals sign release ‘they can start dreaming a little bit’

Bobby Witt Sr. had played 2,621 2/3 professional innings before his first World Series match. That came in 2001, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Witt never pitched again. He was 37 years old with four children at home — three daughters and a son with the same name — and he retired a champion.

Bobby Witt Jr. was 16 months old at the time, too young to share the disappointment his father felt after all those fruitless seasons. In his major league career, with the Kansas City Royals, Witt had more than 200 losses in two last-place seasons. The World Championship seems painfully out of reach.

However, on Monday, Witt, 23, has committed to the Royal Family until at least 2030. His new contract guarantees him $288.7 million over 11 years, though he will have opt-out clauses for four consecutive years starting in the seventh season. If he declines them all, the Royals could then pick up a three-year option that would carry Witt through 2037 for $377.7 million.

It’s a complicated matter, then, and not a blanket promise that one of baseball’s most dynamic talents will age in royal blue. But seven years — especially for a player who gets so much value from his legs — would likely cover the majority of Witt’s impressive tenure. His faith in the Royals sends a strong message about the direction of the franchise.

“The energy in Kansas City, especially today because of this news, is off the charts,” said Rex Hudler, a former player and longtime Royals television analyst. “It’s really refreshing to have a talent like Junior and know that he sees another world championship here as well, so he went ahead and committed with us.”

Witt made a splash in 2023, becoming the first player in Royals history with 30 homers and 30 steals in a season. Only one player in the majors can match Whitt in both stolen bases (49) and extra-base hits (69) — Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr., the consensus most valuable player in the National League — and his defense at shortstop is significantly improved over that of his rookie in 2022. season.

His on-base percentage, .319, was a point below the major league average, in keeping with the Royals’ aggressive approach. Otherwise, Whit does it all.

“He’s a generational player,” Hodler said. “He hits for power, he hits for average, he’s got a great arm, and his hitting is off the charts. And I’ve never seen that kind of speed before. His feet never touch the ground, they’re light. His baseball IQ is what separates him from these young players.” “Other great talent. He really knows how to play the game.”

Bobby Witt Jr. led the majors in triples last season with 11. (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today)

Witt’s contract follows seven Royals free agent deals totaling $109.5 million, for starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, relievers Will Smith and Chris Stratton, outfielder Hunter Renfrow, second baseman Adam Frazier and utility man Garrett Hampson. The spike in spending comes at a strategic moment for Kansas City Chiefs owner John Sherman.

For purposes of the competitive balance tax, the Royals spent $119.4 million on 40-man salaries last season. That finished 26th in the major leagues, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts — not exactly a show of faith for a community that will be asked to help fund a ballpark to replace Kauffman Stadium.

Royals Stadium is a gem, but only five current major league stadiums existed when it opened in 1973: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium and the ill-fated Oakland Coliseum. The team has a deadline of February 29 to reveal the site location for the proposed new park, before an April 2 ballot goes on in Jackson County, Missouri, on extending the stadium sales tax to help the Royals and Chiefs.

The Chiefs, of course, are the ruling power of the NFL. But the Royals, despite having seven straight losing seasons, remain a symbol of hope in a league without a salary cap. Although 13 different teams have won the World Series in the past 20 years, only Kansas City belongs to the so-called small market.

The Royals, who lost the World Series to the Giants in 2014, won it over the Mets in 2015. And in a weak American League Central, their path back to the postseason may be smoother than most.

“They’re playing in a division now that, let’s be honest, is not very good,” said Denny Matthews, a Hall of Fame broadcaster who has called Royals games since the franchise was founded in 1969. In the American League Central, not even close. So all you have to do is beat four other teams.

“This is very practical. You can start dreaming a little about it. The pieces fall into place, and suddenly there you are.”

The royals hoped it wouldn’t take too long between bouts of discord. But their plan to build with first-round college pitchers failed, and last season they used veterans Jordan Lyles and Zach Greinke for 320 innings. The duo combined to go 8-32 with a 5.74 ERA.

Despite this, Cole Ragans was outstanding in 12 starts after the trade from Texas for Aroldis Chapman, and Lugo and Wacha combined for a 3.40 ERA across 280 innings for San Diego. Smith and Stratton are out with the Rangers. There is reason for cautious optimism in the short term, and the leader is committed to survival for the long term.

So it is safe to buy a Bobby Witt Jr. jersey. And if you close your eyes, you might conjure up a World Series patch on your sleeve one day, too.

“How far will he go?” Matthews said. “Nobody knows; he doesn’t know. But he works hard and wants to be better. It’ll be fun to watch.”

Go deeper

Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr.’s extension shows that small market teams can and should make big moves

(Top photo of Bobby Witt Jr.: Brian Rothmueller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(tags for translation) Kansas City Royals

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