5 reasons Witt is well worth his historic contract

February 5th, 2024

The Royals just pulled out all the stops to cement as their franchise cornerstone, signing the 23-year-old shortstop to an 11-year contract worth a guaranteed $288.7 million with options that could take it up to 14 years and $377.7 million, as sources told MLB on Monday.

It's a massive, massive deal for the ascendant young superstar -- one of the longest contracts in MLB history and potentially the third-largest by total value, after only Shohei Ohtani's new $700 million deal with the Dodgers and Mike Trout's current $426.5 million contract with the Angels.

And it's a commitment that could have a huge payoff for Kansas City.

Here are five reasons why Witt could be worth all of what the Royals invested in him, and more.

1) He's already one of MLB's best power-speed stars

Witt has 50 home runs and 79 stolen bases through his first two big league seasons -- he went 20-30 in his debut as MLB's No. 1 overall prospect in 2022 before his ridiculous 30-homer, 49-steal followup in 2023.

When a 20-homer, 30-steal rookie season isn't even your big breakout, you know you have a super-superstar ceiling. That's what we're dealing with here. Witt is already in the same group as some of the best all-around players in the world.

Here are the only eight players who even had 25-plus homers and steals last season, let alone 30 of one and 49 of the other.

Players with 25-25 seasons in 2023

  • Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves -- 41 HR, 73 SB
  • Julio Rodríguez, Mariners -- 32 HR, 37 SB
  • Francisco Lindor, Mets -- 31 HR, 31 SB
  • Bobby Witt Jr., Royals -- 30 HR, 49 SB
  • Kyle Tucker, Astros -- 29 HR, 30 SB
  • Trea Turner, Phillies -- 26 HR, 30 SB
  • Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres -- 25 HR, 29 SB
  • Corbin Carroll, D-backs -- 25 HR, 54 SB

Those are all franchise players. Most of them already had megadeals before this year. And no team had more than one such star.

An elite power-speed combo is one of the clear paths to MVP contention in today's game. The MVP Awards of the last decade-plus of Major League Baseball are littered with power-speed stars: Acuña, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Jose Altuve, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun.

It's easy to see Witt joining that group … and soon.

2) His early-career numbers are historic

Let's put Witt's power-speed numbers in some historical context.

First, the 30-49 season. There have only been five of those in Major League history, period: Witt and Acuña in 2023, Trout in 2012, Barry Bonds in 1990 and Eric Davis in 1987.

Second, the 50 homers and 79 steals through the first two seasons of his career. Witt is the only player who's ever done that.

Only two other players besides Witt have even had 50 homers and 50 steals through their first two seasons. One is J-Rod in Seattle, who could be battling Witt for the title of best player in the American League for the next decade. The other is Acuña. And if the Royals have another Ronald Acuña Jr. in Witt, this contract will be worth every penny.

Third, the 30-30 season as a shortstop. There have been only six of those in MLB history: Witt and Lindor in 2023, Hanley Ramirez in 2008, Jimmy Rollins in 2007, Alex Rodriguez in 1998 and Barry Larkin in 1996.

No matter how you slice his numbers, Witt is already in incredible company, with his entire prime still ahead of him.

3) He has incredible player comps at his age

Which other players were like Witt at age 23? The answer is: Great ones.

Across the different eras of MLB history, few players have collected 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases by their age-23 season. Of the ones who have, there are three groups of generational superstars whose career arc Witt can follow.

  • The current generation, who are playing alongside Witt today but have already cemented their legacy: Acuña, Trout, Betts and Bryce Harper.
  • The previous generation, emerging out of the 1990s and 2000s: Adrián Beltré, Andruw Jones, A-Rod, Ken Griffey Jr. and Bonds.
  • The first generation: Orlando Cepeda, the original player to put up the power-speed numbers that Witt is putting up at his age.

Witt is on a trajectory for greatness. He can be one of the best shortstops in baseball for a long time, and having one of the best shortstops in baseball for a long time is a promise worth investing in.

4) He can be the centerpiece of the next great Royals team

Every great team needs a superstar to lead the way. Witt can be that player for the Royals.

Look at the teams that become World Series champions. They all have a true MVP-type, franchise player at the heart of their lineup -- Corey Seager on the 2023 Rangers, Yordan Alvarez on the 2022 Astros, Freddie Freeman on the 2021 Braves, Mookie Betts on the 2020 Dodgers, Juan Soto on the 2019 Nationals, Betts again on the 2018 Red Sox, Altuve on the 2017 Astros, Kris Bryant on the 2016 Cubs … Lorenzo Cain on the 2015 Royals … Buster Posey on the 2014 Giants, David Ortiz on the 2013 Red Sox. You could go on and on.

And if you want another reason for the Royals to put that sort of stock in Witt -- the latest run of World Series winners have also all had young stars at shortstop.

Recent WS champion shortstops

  • 2023 Rangers -- Corey Seager (29)
  • 2022 Astros -- Jeremy Peña (24)
  • 2021 Braves -- Dansby Swanson (27)
  • 2020 Dodgers -- Corey Seager (26)
  • 2019 Nationals -- Trea Turner (26)
  • 2018 Red Sox -- Xander Bogaerts (25)
  • 2017 Astros -- Carlos Correa (22)

If the Royals are going to build themselves into championship contenders again in the 2020s, Witt is the exact mold of player who can get them there.

5) He's the rare five-tool player

Witt's underlying skill set is just as impressive as his stat sheet, if not more so. He's a once-in-a-generation type talent who can be a true five-tool superstar. That's a player who has everything: contact, power, speed, glove and arm.

His speed comes first. It's top of the scale. Witt was as fast as any player in the Majors last season, with an average sprint speed of 30.5 feet per second, tied for No. 1 with Elly De La Cruz -- anything 30 ft/sec or faster is elite MLB speed. Witt had 149 individual runs at that elite threshold, the most of any player.

But his bat is right behind. Witt emerged as both a top-tier contact and power hitter in 2023, ranking among the top 5% of MLB hitters in both expected batting average (.294) and expected slugging percentage (.533), according to Statcast. He made big gains in hard-hit rate (45.6%) and barrel rate (11.5%), while simultaneously cutting down on his strikeout rate (17.4%) to become both a dangerous and a well-rounded hitter.

Then there's his glove. Witt made huge strides in the field from 2022 to '23, and ended up as one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball. His +14 Outs Above Average was just outside the top 10 for all MLB fielders, and was top-five among shortstops. Witt's arm strength at shortstop (88.6 mph) also ranked in the top quarter of the league, rounding out his five-tool profile.

Witt is the type of player the Royals haven't had in a long time. He's the type of player MLB teams rarely come across at all. That's why he got this contract.