Witt's extension with Royals fulfills dream shared by both sides

February 6th, 2024

KANSAS CITY – Relief and excitement exuded from the Royals’ Draft room on June 3, 2019. The team had just heard that the Orioles were taking Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick that year, and that meant the Royals could select , then an 18-year-old shortstop from Colleyville High School in Texas, the son and namesake of a former Major League pitcher and, by all accounts, a generational talent both on the field and off it.

Prior to that Draft, the Royals sent nearly all of their main scouts, cross-checkers and front office officials to see Witt play in person.

“Our guys just fell in love with him,” said Lonnie Goldberg, the Royals’ scouting director at the time and now the club’s vice president of player personnel. “It’s an easy report to write. He's been that way ever since.

“I remember the phone call to him, and I remember being like, ‘God, I hope there’s some way we can keep this kid here long term.’”

Nearly five years later, the dream came true. The Royals extended their young superstar on Monday with a contract that guarantees him $288.7 million over 11 years and could reach 14 years and a total of $377.7 million.

“It’s truly just an honor,” the 23-year-old Witt said Tuesday at a press conference in the Royals Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium. “I’ve had tears of joy maybe like three or four times – at all my sisters’ weddings, when I got drafted and now today.”

The Royals have been dreaming about locking up Witt since 2019, and Witt’s desire to be a Royal for the majority of his career might have started then, too. Seeing a scout at every game showed Witt the organization’s commitment.

“Seeing the blue up there in the stands, it felt like it was right,” Witt said. “Got drafted here, and being here and in the city, being around the fans, it felt like home just from Day 1.”

A few months after the Royals drafted Witt, CEO/chairman John Sherman and his ownership group bought the franchise. That’s when Sherman’s dream of keeping Witt in Kansas City started.

“This was something we knew was important to us since – well, maybe even when I was hanging around the fence in 2020, watching this young kid run around in Spring Training,” Sherman said. “We certainly knew it over the course of the last two years, as Bobby began to show his skills at the Major League level.”

All Witt showed is that the hype was real. He was good his rookie year but sensational in 2023, becoming the first player in Royals history with a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season. His combination of home runs (30) and steals (49) has been matched only four times in Major League history, by Eric Davis (1987), Barry Bonds (1990), Mike Trout (2012) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2023). Witt slashed .276/.319/.495, led the Majors in triples (11) and improved his defense at shortstop.

Witt backs all that talent up with humility and a genuine team-first attitude. His personality gave the Royals comfort as they awarded him the biggest deal – by far – in franchise history.

“You’re talking about somebody that has known he’s the most talented guy when he steps on the field, probably since he was 6 or 7 years old, but cares about his teammates just as much,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “That’s a very special quality.”

“Really, in this game, you’ve got to find players who are team-first,” Sherman added. “It’s also really, really hard to draft and develop generational talent in this business. It’s even harder to keep them in the same uniform. That’s really what this is about.”

Those goals are even harder for a small-market team like Kansas City, which is why the contract is so significant. Witt is committed to the Royals through at least 2030. After that, his contract includes player opt-out clauses four years in a row. If he declines all of them, the Royals could then pick up a three-year option that would carry Witt through 2037.

It’s a complicated and unique contract. Picollo and Sherman met with Witt Jr. and Sr. in September to say they wanted to extend Junior, understand what was important to him and make sure he knew they were committed to putting a winning team around him.

Witt expressed his desire to be a Royal for a long time, but more than anything, he reiterated that he “wanted to be in a place he thought he could win,” Picollo said. The Royals had a lot of work to do, then, after losing 97 games in Witt’s rookie year and 106 games in 2023.

The Royals made an official offer to Witt in December, and there were several counters before the two sides came to an agreement. In the meantime, the Royals committed nearly $110 million to seven free agents in an effort to improve the team in ‘24.

“The moves they made this past offseason show you they want to win now,” Witt said. “It’s time to win now.”

The opt-out clauses give Witt the opportunity to become a free agent when he’s 30 years old or negotiate a new deal with the club. The Royals, meanwhile, are buying out his arbitration years and three years of what would have been free agency, giving them seven more years of control starting this season. That’s covering the majority of Witt’s prime.

“There’s clearly a lot of flexibility on Bobby’s behalf, but we’re comfortable with that,” Picollo said. “Because it allowed us to sign him and get a number of years that we felt good about.”

Witt gets the flexibility, but make no mistake: He wants to be in Kansas City. A long-term contract was his No. 1 goal.

“This is where I want to be,” Witt said. “If I want to [win] something, I want it to be here.”