There is an excitement in Royals camp this year, with a greater expectation to win than at any point since the core of the championship club team departed after the 2017 season. With a crop of young pitchers coming up, and Bobby Witt, Jr. ready soon, perhaps as soon as this season, the Royals have looked to lock up their talent to long-term deals. With Whit Merrifield already under a long-term deal, the Royals signed Hunter Dozier to a four-year deal a few weeks ago.
The next player to be signed to a long-term deal could be shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, at least according to Fansided reporter Robert Murray.
“The Royals have recently engaged with infielder Adalberto Mondesi about a contract extension, according to sources familiar with the situation, though one source cautioned that there is “a lot to work through.”
The 25-year old shortstop was eligible for arbitration for the first time this season, and will earn $2.52 million. He would be eligible for free agency following the 2023 season, when he is still just 28 years old. Mondesi has had a very inconsistent track record, and in 1,176 career plate appearances, he has hit just .251/.284/.415, an OPS+ of 85. He has one of the worst on-base percentages in baseball and has had trouble staying on the field due to injuries.
But he has still been valuable when he plays, due to his great speed and tremendous defense. Since 2018, he has been worth 6.6 WAR, according to Fangraphs, more valuable than Gleyber Torres, Corey Seager, or Carlos Correa. If the Royals offer a long-term deal, they will be banking on Mondesi’s performance down the stretch last year. After a miserable start, Mondesi hit .376/.424/.706 with six home runs and 16 steals (and seven walks!) in his final 22 games. If the Royals believe that stretch is a sign of things to come, it makes sense to sign Mondesi now before he breaks out and the price goes up.
So how much would Mondesi get in an extension? I looked at some long-term deals signed by middle infielders who had similar service time and offensive numbers to Mondesi. The service time and career numbers are those leading up to the point of when the deal was signed (for a mid-season deal, the numbers are from the beginning of the season).
Recent long-term contracts for pre-free agent middle infielders
|Player||Date||Age||Service time||Career line||Contract|
|Player||Date||Age||Service time||Career line||Contract|
|Brandon Crawford||11/17/2015||28||4.094||.246/.313/.383||Six years, $75 million|
|Dee Strange-Gordon||1/13/2016||27||3.154||.293/.328/.369||Five years, $50 million, one vesting option|
|Kolten Wong||3/2/2016||25||2.045||.250/.303/.374||Five years, $25.5 million, one club option year|
|Rougned Odor||3/30/2017||23||2.121||.265/.302/.464||Six years, $49.5 million, one club option year|
|Jean Segura||6/7/2017||27||3.065||.280/.319/.396||Five years, $70 million, one club option year|
|Jorge Polanco||2/14/2019||25||2.024||.272/.329/.420||Five years, $25.75 million, two club option years|
|Nick Ahmed||2/10/2020||29||5.054||.236/.289/.387||Four years, $32.5 million|
Some other comps - like Tim Anderson, Ketel Marte, and Ozzie Albies - aren’t good comps because they were signed much earlier in their career than Mondesi, after just one year in the big leagues. The eight-year, $120 million contract for Elvis Andrus stands out as a huge outlier now, so I didn’t include that one either.
Segura’s numbers look similar to Mondesi’s, but he signed his deal just after a monster breakout season where he led the league in hits and finished 13th in MVP voting. Crawford’s are also similar, but again, he signed his deal after a breakout All-Star/Silver Slugger season, driving the price sky-high. Second baseman Dee Strange-Gordon also signed his deal after winning a batting title. Their contracts show why it is important to sign Mondesi before he breaks out.
Perhaps the best comp is Nick Ahmed, although he was nearly 30 years old when he signed his deal. Like Mondesi, Ahmed is a very low on-base percentage hitter with some decent power and Gold Glove-caliber defense (Ahmed has won the award twice). Mondesi has much better speed and is four years younger and further away from free agency, so he should command more, but the Ahmed deal could be a useful guidepost.
If we look at what Mondesi might get in arbitration, we can see that players like Corey Seager and Carlos Correa each received $7-8 million in their second year of arbitration, so it is not unreasonable to think Mondesi could get close to that in 2022. Let’s be conservative and say between $5-6 million. Seager and Correa received well over $10 million in their third year of arbitration, so let’s put Mondesi at $8-9 million if he continues his track.
What would Mondesi get on the open market as a free agent in 2024? He would be just 28 years old, and teams value youth. Jurickson Profar, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal this off-season, could be a reasonable comp as a player with great tools with an inconsistent track record, although Mondesi is much better defensively at a premium position. Factoring that, and salary inflation, he could receive around $9-10 million per year.
So I think a reasonable offer could be four years, $35 million in guaranteed money with a club option of say $12-14 million, and incentives and escalators if Mondesi breaks out that could earn him around $60 million over five years. He would still be a free agent at age 29, with a chance to land a big deal if he reaches his potential in the next five seasons.
If that is the market price, we have to ask whether it is worth it for the Royals to keep Mondesi in a Royals uniform past his scheduled free agency date. With Bobby Witt, Jr. likely ready for the leagues within the next 18 months, the Royals have a very talented player capable of plus defense at shortstop. Mondesi could move to another position, but that would likely make him much less valuable, since his defense at shortstop makes up a lot of his value now.
Witt could move to third base - Hunter Dozier recently signed a long-term deal, but he could end up in right field or first base. He has largely played second base in spring training, and he would provide a great bat for that position. There have also been rumors of Witt possibly moving to the outfield, and he certainly seems to have the athleticism to make it there as well. Ultimately, the Royals need as many good ballplayers as they can get, and with the positional versatility on the roster, they have options.
There is also risk. The Royals already have Mondesi for the next three seasons, would it be worth it to commit to him knowing his inconsistency and injury past? Committing to a long-term deal could help control costs, if Mondesi breaks out, and it would align with the expected window of contention.
Would Mondesi accept such a deal? It is hard to say. He did already receive a sizeable bonus as an amateur - $2 million - and as the son of a former big leaguer, he probably has a better idea of how contract negotiations work. Knowing his skills, he might want to bet on himself. However, knowing his injury history, he may also want to get that guaranteed money, while still giving himself the chance to hit free agency at a fairly young age if he does break out.
The Royals have been good at committing to their talent, giving them a strong nucleus for the next few seasons. If they do want to get to the next level, it could very well depend on Adalberto Mondesi reaching the potential he has tantalized us with for years.
Should the Royals sign Adalberto Mondesi to a long-term contract?
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