Royals make official SS Bobby Witt Jr.’s mammoth 11-year, $288 million-plus contract

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals owner John Sherman remembers hanging along the fence at spring training in Arizona back in 2020, shortly after he had purchased the club from David Glass, and watching top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. rip line drives to every part of the field.

Sherman had a suspicion even then that he was watching something special.

Over the next few years, Witt shot through the minors like one of those hard-hit line drives. He made his big league debut in 2022 and hit 20 homers and stole 30 bases. And he followed with a sophomore season to remember, finishing seventh in MVP voting while doing things last year that put him on rarified lists alongside Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

Now, Witt will be doing those things in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

The Royals officially signed the 23-year-old shortstop to a mammoth 11-year deal worth more than $288.7 million guaranteed on Tuesday, easily the longest and richest contract in club history. It includes a three-year, $89 million team option that would drive 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 really, really hard to draft and develop generational talent in this business, and it’s even harder to keep them in the same uniform, and that’s what this is really all about.”

The Royals approached Witt about a long-term deal last September, when he had just wrapped up a season that proved he could be the cornerstone of a rebuilding effort for a 106-loss team. The negotiations began in earnest during the winter meetings, and some creativity from both sides allowed them to find a middle ground this past weekend.

Witt’s deal riffs on his lucky No. 7 jersey by including a signing bonus of $7,777,777, payable in seven installments, with the first within 60 days of the contract’s approval by the commissioner’s office. Witt will receive $2 million this year, then in the three years 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 in 2028 and $35 million each of the next two years.

Then there is some flexibility built into the contract: Witt has four player options at $35 million annually from 2031-34, giving him the chance to redo his deal with Kansas City or test free agency. The Royals’ three-year team option follows and would pay $33 million in 2035 and $28 million each in 2036 and the concluding year.

If all the options are included, Witt would be 37 by the time 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 pretty special to see the text messages from the guys; the one from Patrick Mahomes is pretty cool. And just the support from around the city.

“We were out at fanfest this past weekend,” Witt recalled, “and they were like, ‘When are you going to get that contract done? We want you in Kansas City forever.’ So it was special to see all that support and all of that love.”

The contract, and the offseason in general, represents a seismic shift for a notoriously frugal, small-market ballclub.

The Royals’ previous record contract was a four-year, $82 million deal given to All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. Yet over the past few months, they have committed more than $100 million to free agents, almost completely revamping their starting rotation and destitute bullpen while adding Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier to fill out the depth chart.

Those deals will not only help Kansas City compete in a wide open AL Central but were important to Witt’s negotiation.

“We needed to make some moves,” Royals general manager J.J. Picollo admitted. “Going back to the September meeting, the most important thing to Bobby was being in a place he thought he could win. That was the No. 1 message we took out of that.

“When you’re as talented as he is,” 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 driving factor when we got to the finish line that we had done some things that showed we wanted to win.”

The Royals also are trying to show voters in Jackson County, Missouri, that they want to win. The voters will cast ballots in April on a referendum to extend a sales tax that would help to pay for a new billion-dollar-plus downtown ballpark.

The Royals’ aim 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 afterward.

“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’re at right now, and today, and I’m looking forward to this team and going about this year.”

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