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The Bobby Witt Jr. reactions are out of control

The extension is unequivocally good news for Royals fans, but it seems that many people think it means things that don’t necessarily follow.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., left, smiles as he answers questions while the team’s owner, John Sherman, applauds during a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., left, smiles as he answers questions while the team’s owner, John Sherman, applauds during a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It has only been a few days since Bobby Witt Jr. signed his franchise-record, franchise-altering, and perhaps franchise-defining contract extension that makes it exceptionally likely that he will play for the Kansas City Royals until he is at least 30 years old and could easily lead him to spend his entire career in Royal blue.

This is a good thing.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts in that statement for a reason. That reason is because they do not belong there. Even if the worst-case scenario should happen and Bobby becomes a dumpster fire of a player or ceases to be able to play at all for any reason, the signal it sends to fans and the baseball world at large that the team can do such a deal is meaningful. It was the right choice for the team. In the long term, it should help them be more competitive on the field. In the short term, it should boost ticket sales and improve the likelihood that people will vote for public funding to build the new stadium the team has been pushing for.

That said, some of the reactions to this deal have been so over-the-top that they embarrass even me, a noted non-over-reacter*. Maybe you want to be a little out of control. I can understand that, I’m not exaggerating when I call this a historic occasion for Royals fans. It would be a historic contract for most franchises as, at its base level, the contract is the fourteenth most lucrative deal ever handed out in Major League Baseball. That means there are at least 16 other teams that haven’t given deals this large.

*That’s code for, “Person who overreacts to a lot of stuff but always pretends like their reactions are entirely reasonable.”

I don’t want to act like a wet blanket on this truly, literally historic occasion. But I also find myself needing to say something. If you don’t want to get damp, feel free to close your browser tab and continue about your day. You won’t hurt my feelings.

That video of the front office applauding Bobby is just weird

In case you missed it, Royals announcer Joel Goldberg posted this video on Tuesday, February 6 as Bobby arrived to participate in a press conference about his deal:

Now, undoubtedly some of those people were there simply because they truly were excited to be a part of this historic occasion. However, at least some - and I would guess the majority - were there because someone decided it would be a good marketing opportunity for the team and orders were passed down.

And, really, what are they even celebrating here? It isn’t some super-heroic feat of play on the field or a victory or anything else. It’s that this single man has signed a contract that guarantees he will make more money in the next seven years than all of them together will earn in their entire lifetimes. I’m very firmly in the, “Pay the players!” because every dollar they don’t take home is another dollar in a billionaire’s pocket, and billionaires, by definition, don’t need any more dollars in their pockets. That said, it strikes me as incredibly weird and maybe even a bit dystopian that these people were forced to stand around waiting for Bobby to show up so they could applaud his good fortune.

Is it the worst thing that’s ever happened? No, of course not. And, like I said, some people probably genuinely wanted to be there because they were excited for the team, Bobby, or both. But it’s still incredibly weird and it definitely gives me the heeby-jeebies. I do not understand how people can get so giddy while watching that video.

Bobby says he wants to stay in KC and this proves it!

Again, this is a place where maybe there’s some truth to it. Maybe Bobby Witt Jr. really does love playing in Kansas City and maybe he really does want to continue playing here. That said, I’m old enough to remember when guys like Johnny Damon said they wanted to remain in Kansas City even while making it clear that they did not by bolting for other teams at their first opportunity. That isn’t to say I blame Johnny or would blame Witt for doing the same. I’m not even accusing them of lying necessarily. I think we all have places we’d rather work than not, but we’d all also take a higher salary elsewhere if it was offered.

Bobby Witt Jr. signed that contract because it represented a good deal for his employment first and foremost. The fact that it keeps him in Kansas City long-term isn’t meaningless, but it’s still almost certainly a distant second to that first fact. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason he or anyone else should stay with an employer when they can get paid more money to do the same job elsewhere. But nothing about this proves that Bobby Witt Jr. wanted to stay in Kansas City, and it’s silly to pretend it is so.

KC has a good team, now!

I’ve seen variations of this theme all over the place, including in tweets and newsletters from people I respect.

  • Other players will want to sign with Kansas City to play with Bobby Witt Jr.!
  • The Royals will no longer have to pay the bad-team tax when signing free agents!
  • The Royals are going to be competitive!

To address that first one, this isn’t like the NFL or NBA where a singularly talented player can raise the play of everyone around him. If you play football, it makes sense that you’d want to play on the same team as Patrick Mahomes because his throwing ability means receivers should get better balls to catch, running backs should have more space to run in as defenders are forced to defend the pass, and defenses should have more favorable situations because other teams will be forced to play more one-dimensionally in order to keep up with your team’s impressive offense.

Baseball doesn’t really work that way, though. Sure, maybe the batters immediately ahead of and behind Bobby will get more fastballs to hit, but that still leaves six other hitters without significantly easier outlooks. Maybe Bobby’s defense makes things easier for a pitcher, but that’s only on batted balls where the shortstop position can influence the outcome which is only a certain percentage of them. Playing with Bobby Witt Jr. only seems more enjoyable if you think he’s going to make the team better which means you get to play in bigger situations that are more fun and get you more attention which can increase your pay.

However, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stand as the ultimate evidence that even having the two best players on the planet playing for your team doesn’t guarantee anything by itself. Bobby Witt Jr. had his breakout season, which led to this massive contract, in 2023. That was the same year the Royals lost 106 games. He was very, very good and the team still lost a record-tying number of games. There’s just no reason to think that Bobby, by himself, makes the team a more attractive free-agent destination. The only way to do that is first, by offering more money to the free agents than anyone else, and second, by winning. Bobby’s presence might help with the second one in the future, but he actually just made it harder to do the first one.

I’m old enough to remember when the Royals signed Mike Sweeney, Gil Meche, and Zack Greinke to lucrative contracts and said all the right things about how this was the first step in building a competitive team, other players would want to come to Kansas City now, and everyone believed it meant that the team would continue to build around those guys.

Sweeney signed his extension before 2003, which proved to be a fluke season and during which the Royals still couldn’t bring in any interesting players at the deadline to help them finish it off. They lost more than 100 games for the next three seasons while players like Carlos Beltran and Raul Ibanez were allowed to leave. Meche signed in 2007 and was an all-star, but the team finished with 93 losses. They never had a record above .500 and never added any players of note to let leave. Greinke signed his extension prior to the 2009 season but the Royals were so bad and so utterly failed to follow through on their promises to him to improve the roster around him that he demanded a trade in 2010.

It’s true that all of that happened under different ownership and different General Managers. The point isn’t that this is definitely what will happen, I can’t know that. But it could happen, so pretending that it can’t does no one any favors.

Listen, the team should be drastically improved in 2024. Even Royals’ fans’ arch-nemesis, the PECOTA projections, thinks the Royals will improve by a staggering fourteen games in 2024. ZiPS says it should be eighteen. I would bet the over on them both. I, like every other Royals fan, am super glad that the Royals and Witt were able to find a contract that they were both happy with that will keep him in Kansas City for a long time, giving them an opportunity to try and build a winner around him. This deal absolutely makes the team better in the future. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that to be a great thing for the Kansas City Royals.