Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and the Kansas City Royals are in agreement on an 11-year, $288.8 million contract extension, sources told ESPN, a staggering guarantee that will keep the young star in Kansas City as the Royals attempt to build a team — and a new stadium — with him at the center.
Witt, 23, who is entering his third major league season, was one of the best players in baseball last year, prompting the Royals to lavish upon him a deal that includes superstar money with flexibility as well. The contract will allow Witt to opt out after the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th years, sources said. It also includes a club option after the 11th season that would tack on three years and $89 million to the contract, giving it a 14-year, $377 million ceiling.
The deal, which begins a monumental week for Kansas City sports that will end with the Chiefs playing San Francisco in the Super Bowl, guarantees Witt more than all but 15 players in baseball history. It reflects the team’s belief in Witt, who last season hit .276/.319/.495 with 30 home runs and 49 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. His signing, a week before Royals players report to spring training, caps a busy winter in which the Royals moved aggressively in free agency, in part to help convince Witt that owner John Sherman was sincere in his desire to bring the Royals back to relevance less than a decade after they won the franchise’s second World Series.
Locking up Witt was the top priority for the Royals all offseason, and they secured a deal only two months before a ballot referendum in Jackson County, Missouri, to extend a three-eighths-of-a-cent tax that would help fund a new downtown Kansas City stadium for the Royals and renovate the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.
A 6-foot-1, 200-pound shortstop whose father spent 16 years as a major league pitcher, Witt has entranced evaluators for years with his combination of power, speed, baseball know-how and high character. Kansas City scouted him heavily before selecting him with the No. 2 pick out of Colleyville, Texas, in the 2019 draft. Two months later, Sherman bought the Royals from longtime owner David Glass and inherited the most talented player to join the organization in decades.
In his first full season in 2021, Witt rocketed to Triple-A and was the unanimous minor league player of the year. At Witt’s big league debut on Opening Day in 2022, Kansas City luminaries — from the Royals’ lone Hall of Famer, George Brett, to the city’s mayor, Quinton Lucas, to the recently crowned NCAA champion Kansas men’s basketball team — showed up to see the Royals, and Witt in particular.
As a rookie, Witt’s performance matched the hype: 20 home runs, 30 stolen bases, best-in-baseball speed and a glove that could grow into something special. A better version of him showed up last season after Witt spent the spring with the United States’ World Baseball Classic team. He led the major leagues with 11 triples, bumped his home runs by 50% and his stolen bases even more, matured defensively, and cut his strikeout rate to 17.4%. Only Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Ozzie Albies — the first three of whom finished first or second in MVP voting last year — had 30 or more homers with lower strikeout rates.
Never would the timing for an extension be better than this winter. Witt would have entered arbitration after the 2024 season and been just three years from free agency and the allure of teams far more moneyed than the Royals. Had a deal not been completed, the Royals could have begun entertaining the possibility of trading Witt — especially if it was clear they were unwilling to operate in the $250 million-plus space and dwarf their previous record contract, a four-year, $82 million extension for All-Star catcher Salvador Perez.
Sherman was. And, in doing so, he hopes not only to send the Royals on a proper trajectory after a dismal 56-106 finish in 2023 but convince fans to vote yes on putting $1 billion toward a stadium estimated to cost $2 billion and serve as the nerve center for a downtown entertainment district. The Royals’ current home, Kauffman Stadium, was built in 1973 and renovated in 2009.
Discussions have been going on between the Royals and Bobby Witt Sr., who serves as his son’s agent with Octagon, for months. Witt’s guarantee of $288 million is the second largest for a pre-arbitration player behind Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 14-year, $340 million contract and exceeds Tatis’ deal — which was previously regarded as in its own class — in annual value by around $2 million.
The opt-outs, which come after the 2030, 2031, 2032 and 2033 seasons, afford Witt the opportunity to reach free agency or renegotiate the deal, but he intends to remain with the Royals long past the first seven years, which will pay him $148 million. The deal also includes a no-trade clause and a signing bonus of $7,777,777 — perfect for the player whose No. 7 jersey is ubiquitous around Kansas City.
The commitment is an investment in trust by both sides. Big-money, long-term contracts for players as young as Witt are regarded by low-revenue teams such as Kansas City as necessary to keep players of his caliber. At the same time, they come with enough risk that teams are loath to hand them out. Only six previous players with two or fewer years in the major leagues had been given nine-figure deals. All have been All-Stars: Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $340 million), Julio Rodriguez (12 years, $209 million), Wander Franco (11 years, $182 million), Mike Trout (six years, $144.5 million), Corbin Carroll (eight years, $111 million) and Acuña (eight years, $100 million).
Witt, meanwhile, is entrusting his best years to an organization that has struggled to surround him with good players in his first two years, during which the Royals went 121-203. The free agent signings of right-handers Seth Lugo (three years, $45 million) and Michael Wacha (two years, $32 million) have helped stabilize a rotation that saw a potential breakout in the second half from left-hander Cole Ragans, whom Kansas City acquired for reliever Aroldis Chapman in June. The return of first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, who missed most of 2023 after undergoing shoulder surgery, should provide Witt with better lineup protection.
Multiple teams’ internal projection systems regard Witt as one of the 10 best players in baseball and see MVP-type seasons in his future. During his first season, Witt showed flashes of greatness, and when fans stumped to ensure he’d remain with the Royals, he said that he didn’t want to look too far ahead but that “I want to be here for a long time.”
Now, he will be.