clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Does the Royals free agent spending spree mean anything for a Bobby Witt extension?

Witt’s deal would be expensive, that’s for sure.

Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates scoring a first inning run with teammates while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 28, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.
Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates scoring a first inning run with teammates while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 28, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Owner John Sherman, head of baseball ops JJ Picollo, and the entire Kansas City Royals organization came out swinging in December. Halfway through the month, the team had spent the fourth-most free agent dollars out of any big league club. The Royals did this by going out and adding not one, but two starting pitchers in Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha. They also added a few relievers and a legit starting outfielder in Hunter Renfroe.

Barring any future moves (and depending on the results of arbitration cases), the 2024 Royals payroll is close to $110 million, about $18 million more than 2023 Opening Day and the franchise’s highest big league payroll since 2018. It seems unlikely the Royals add another major free agent, but it’s entirely possible that figure could creep higher after some trades or after a few more minor free agent signings.

These last few weeks have turned a boring offseason into a legitimately terrific one. The team’s calculus is clear: the Royals, rightfully so, see the American League Central as a soft division. Combine that with the fact that the draft lottery de-incentivizes tanking and that the true talent level of the 2023 club was markedly better than their record indicated, spending a bunch on free agency is the rare no-lose situation. Only end up with, like, 76 wins in a disappointing season? You could still win the draft lottery. Go on a run and eke out a division title with 84 wins or whatever? Bring back that 2014 energy, baby.

But there’s one part of Kansas City’s offseason that’s at the back of everyone’s heads: what about Bobby Witt Jr.? Is an extension for him on the board? People keep asking Picollo about it, and Picollo keeps answering in the same “yeah of course we’d love to keep our superstar shortstop, why do you ask” kind of way. Here’s what Picollo said at the end of the regular season:

Royals general manager J.J. Picollo would like to keep Witt long term. In October, he said the team is working to secure a contract extension. “So, we are working on that,” Picollo said. “I don’t really want to comment on it more than that (it’s) a goal of ours. It would be exciting to do so, as he is a special player. We want to keep special players in our uniform.”

In other words: “yeah of course we’d love to keep our superstar shortstop, why do you ask.”

However, everyone knows the Royals are a small market club, and that a Witt extension would be very expensive. Nothing much has changed since I wrote about the mechanics of what a Witt extension would like in August, which is that a Witt extension would probably end up at an average annual value of $25 million or so for 10-15 years. In other words, we’re at minimum talking about $250 million. Considering the Royals haven’t ever offered even $80 million to a single player, that doesn’t seem particularly likely.

The good news is that I think the Royals’ aggressiveness in adding to payroll this year means that an extension is more likely than it was a month ago. Ultimately, the only way to extend Witt is to commit to that kind of money, and a month ago Sherman hadn’t shown any interest in being remotely competitive with the team’s payroll—and if Sherman wasn’t going to spend on the team much at all, that was bad news bears for a Witt extension. Now, at least, there’s some evidence that Sherman is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Additionally, there’s just not much reason to think that the Royals’ free agent activity will preclude them from offering Witt a deal beyond the underlying reasons why it would be economically difficult for them to do it in the first place. Kansas City’s payroll looks to dip down below $90 million in 2026 with current figures, a number that could easily get down to below $70 million if Seth Lugo declines his player option and the Royals trade Brady Singer. Most big deals are backloaded to some extent anyways, and with MLB payrolls in 2026 and beyond bound to bigger than they are right now, there’s plenty of room.

Witt will definitely be in Royals blue for another two seasons. After that, the Royals will be faced with a choice: extend him, or trade him for a king’s bounty of prospects. Hopefully it’s the former. But if it’s the latter, well, we’ll just have to make sure we root for him while we have him.