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Comparing a Bobby Witt Jr. extension to the market

How does the young shortstop compare?

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Back in August, our own Matthew Lamar took a look at what a Bobby Witt Jr. extension might look like for the Kansas City Royals. Now, just over four months later, has the landscape changed any? The Royals have reportedly been in talks with Witt on a future extension for an unspecified amount of time. General Manager J.J. Picollo has made clear the team’s desire to keep their young shortstop in Kansas City for a long time. Does that mean anything? After all, no front office is going to come out point blank and say they don’t want their best player to be in town for their career. What could matter more is the team’s recent spending spree.

The recent free-agent spending has positioned the Royals to compete in the American League Central sometime soon. If not 2024, then 2025 would seem like a very plausible opening of the competitive window. Back in August, the future looked much more blurry. With a clearer path forward, the team’s chances of extending Witt only look better. No matter how competitive they are, however, it won’t come cheap. Many have the extension as well over the $200 million mark. That seems like a strong starting point when analyzing a potential extension. When compared to the market value and recent contracts, I see three tiers of contract that the Royals could pursue with Bobby Witt Jr.

A look at recent league contracts to consider

There are dozens of contracts over the last decade to consider when evaluating Witt’s market value over the ten years. Among them, I chose 12 that I felt mattered most. When looking at each deal, it’s important to note a few aspects that will impact extension talks for the Royals. First and foremost is the value between arbitration years and free agent years. Simply put, the arbitration years should be cheaper than the free agent years. The team already has control over Witt for those arbitration years. Free agency — the years after 2027 — are a different story.

WAR at signing matters as well. Compared to the rest, Witt has substantially less career fWAR at 8.0. Recent deals for Julio Rodriguez and Corbin Carroll bucked that trend some. Both signed with less career fWAR than Witt currently has. By combining the average arbitration year value, average free agent year value, and fWAR at signing, it becomes clearer what a potential Witt Jr. contract might look like. Here’s a look at the 12 players I considered:

Market Contracts

Player: Years: Age during deal: Total $: AAV: Options/Opt-Outs: FA Years AAV: Arb. Years AAV: fWAR @ signing:
Player: Years: Age during deal: Total $: AAV: Options/Opt-Outs: FA Years AAV: Arb. Years AAV: fWAR @ signing:
Francisco Lindor 10 28-37 $341m $34.1m $34m $8m 30.9
Julio Rodriguez 12 22-34 $209m* $17.4m Team, Age 29 $18m $18m 5.4
Corbin Carroll 8 22-30 $111m $13.9m Team, Age 30 $28m $12m 0*
Corey Seager 10 28-37 $325m $32.5m $32m $6m 21.6
Dansby Swanson 7 29-35 $177m $25.3m $26m $6m 16.2
Carlos Correa 6 28-37 $200m $33.3m Vesting Option, Age 29 $33m $3m 26.9
Alex Bregman 5 26-30 $100m $20m $28m $11m 22
Rafael Devers 10 26-36 $313m $31.3m $33m $11m 18.2
Trea Turner 11 30-40 $300m $27.3m $27m $3m 31.7
Ronald Acuna Jr. 8 21-30 $100m $12.5m Team, Age 27+28 $17m $12m 4.1
Xander Bogaerts BOS 6 26-32 $120m $20m Opt-Out, Age 29 $20m $8m 16.2
Xander Bogaerts SD 11 30-40 $280m $25.5m $25m $8m 34

When analyzing these contracts, it’s important to note the important difference between them. Players like Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts were signed as free agent contracts on the open market. Others, like the Julio Rodriguez, Corbin Carroll, and Ronald Acuña Jr. contracts were signed very early in their careers. Carroll signed before his first MLB appearance. Rodriguez signed early with a contract that included performance escalators. Those escalators have the potential to raise his overall earnings to well over $400 million.

Perhaps the most comparable deals included here are the Xander Bogaerts and Alex Bregman extensions. Bregman signed a 5-year, $100 million extension with Houston in March of 2019. The deal bought out all three of his arbitration years and two free-agent years afterward. He will hit free agency at age 31, barring another extension. Bogaerts similarly signed an arbitration extension with Boston in March 2019. Bogaerts was already entering his final year of arbitration and bought the Red Sox three free-agent years afterward.

By these comparisons, it seems more likely Witt will sign an extension after the 2024 season than before. It all depends on the length of deal the Royals are willing to entertain. In my contract calculations, I considered an immediate extension which includes the 2024 season. First and foremost, it seems extremely unlikely Kansas City would entertain any extension of less than seven years. A five-year deal only buys one free agent year. Anything less than seven lets Witt hit free agency at age 28 or 29 when his market value will likely be far more than the Royals could compete with. The team should seek more long-term security than that.

Using seven years as the low-water mark, I’ve also calculated contract lengths of nine and 12 years.

Potential Witt Jr. Extensions

. Years: Estimated Arb$: FA Years AAV: # of FA Years: Total $: Total AAV: Opt-Out/Options:
. Years: Estimated Arb$: FA Years AAV: # of FA Years: Total $: Total AAV: Opt-Out/Options:
Witt Extension 1: 7 $54m $30m 3 $144m $20.6m
Witt Extension 2: 9 $54m $35m 5 $229m $25.4m Opt-Out, Age 30
Witt Extension 3: 12 $54m $37m 8 $350m $29.2m Opt-Out, Age 30

You’ll notice that in all three contracts, Witt Jr. can become a free agent at age 30. The Royals do not have a strong track record of building competitive rosters. A young star like Witt Jr. will want some long-term flexibility to avoid playing for a basement-dwelling franchise for most of his career. That flexibility combined with long-term security could also help the Royals to add extra years to the deal with hopes they’ll be competitive enough to keep Witt in town.

Each contract has varying levels of average value, simply based on how many free agent years the team is buying. Eight free-agent years are going to cost substantially more than three. As such, the AAV of a 12-year contract is $29.2 million compared to just $20.6 million on a seven-year agreement. All of these contracts well exceed the Corbin Carroll deal, signed with Arizona. The numbers also well-exceed Julio Rodriguez’s base contract, although his contract escalators could raise his earnings substantially.

There has been plenty of talk about whether the Royals will pursue a creative structure in the same manner that Seattle did. That seems very unlikely. The Royals have never given a $100 million contract in their franchise history. If they’re going to put the first one on the books, they’ll want some certainty about their future finances. In a cynical light, it seems most likely that the Royals will let Witt get as far into arbitration as possible before agreeing to an extension if they do at all. Recently we’ve seen the team turn over a new leaf in the free agent spending department, which makes me more optimistic they’ll get something done.

The 12-year pact seems most unlikely. The Royals have never spent more than $82 million on any contract extension. Salvador Perez signed a franchise-record four-year, $82 million extension in March 2021. It seems unlikely the team would make their first six-figure pact as extreme as 12 years, $350 million. From Witt’s perspective, the opt-out makes it easier to stomach and could be the deciding factor between signing a long-term deal at all. There’s also the question of value on the field.

Bobby Witt Jr. had a fantastic 2023 season, finishing as one of the best players in the entire league. Despite that strong campaign, his career fWAR is still 8.0 over two seasons. At the time of their extensions, Bregman (22.0) and Bogaerts (16.2) were both worth substantially more fWAR. Both were also further along in their careers. It’s a tricky debate to navigate, as both sides have clear concerns to consider. Hopefully, the Royals realize that regardless of the risk, the roster is substantially better with Witt than without.