KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals owner John Sherman remembers hanging on the fence at spring training in Arizona back in 2020, shortly after buying the club from David Glass, and seeing the prospect Bobby Witt Jr. throw line drives to every part of the field.
Sherman even then had the suspicion that he was seeing something special.
Over the next few years, Witt traversed the minors as one of those hardliners. He made his major league debut in 2022 and hit 20 home runs and stole 30 bases. And he followed up with a sophomore season to remember, finishing seventh in MVP voting while doing things last year that put him on exclusive lists alongside Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Now, Witt will do those things in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.
The Royals on Tuesday officially signed the 23-year-old shortstop to a mammoth 11-year contract worth more than $288.7 million guaranteed, easily the longest and richest contract in club history. It includes a three-year, $89 million team option that would raise the value to more than $377 million and keep Witt with the Royals through the 2037 season.
“We wanted to get this done before the season, and ideally before spring training, and this was the time to do it,” Sherman said during a news conference at Kauffman Stadium. “It’s very, very difficult to recruit and develop generational talent in this business, and it’s even more difficult to keep them in the same uniform, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
The Royals approached Witt about a long-term deal last September, just coming off a season that showed he could be the cornerstone of a rebuilding effort for a 106-loss team. Negotiations began in earnest during the winter meetings, and some creativity on both sides allowed them to find a middle ground last weekend.
Witt’s deal builds on his fortunate No. 7 jersey by including a signing bonus of $7,777,777, payable in seven installments, the first within 60 days of contract approval by the commissioner’s office. Witt will receive $2 million this year, then in the three years in which he would have been eligible for arbitration: $7 million in 2025, $13 million in 2026 and $19 million in 2027. Witt will then earn $30 million of dollars in 2028 and 35 million dollars each of the next two years.
Then there’s some flexibility built into the contract: Witt has four player options for $35 million annually between 2031 and 2034, giving him the opportunity to redo his deal with Kansas City or test free agency. He follows the Royals’ three-year team option and would pay $33 million in 2035 and $28 million each in 2036 and the final year.
If all options are included, Witt would be 37 years old when the contract expires.
“It’s been amazing, all the text messages I was getting, seeing ‘Breaking News!’ and it was me,’” Witt said. “It was very special to see the text messages from the guys; Patrick Mahomes’s one is great. And just the support of the entire city.
“We were at the fanfest last weekend,” Witt recalled, “and they said, ‘When are you going to close that deal? We want you in Kansas City forever. So it was special to see all that support and all that love.”
The contract, and the offseason in general, represents a seismic shift for a notoriously frugal and small-market club.
The Royals’ previous record contract was a four-year, $82 million deal given to All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. However, in recent months, they have committed more than $100 million to free agents, almost completely overhauling their starting rotation and destitute bullpen, while adding Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Frazier to round out the roster.
Those deals will not only help Kansas City compete in a wide-open American League Central Division, but they were also important in the Witt deal.
“We needed to make some moves,” Royals general manager JJ Picollo admitted. “Going back to the September meeting, the most important thing for Bobby was to be in a place where he thought he could win. That was the number one message we took away from that.
“When you have as much talent as he does,” Picollo said, “the finances will take care of themselves. But he was talking about the culture of winning. That really resonated with John and me, and was probably the determining factor when we got to the finish line: we had done some things that showed we wanted to win.”
The Royals are also trying to show voters in Jackson County, Missouri, that they want to win. Voters will vote in April in a referendum to extend a sales tax that would help pay for a new $1 billion-plus downtown baseball stadium.
The Royals’ goal has been to move into the new stadium in time for opening day of the 2028 season.
Witt should be there. And for many years after.
“This is where I wanted to be, and if I wanted to do something, I wanted it to be here. That was the main goal,” he said, adding, “I like where we are now and today, and I’m looking forward to this team and moving forward this year.”
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