'We have somebody to build around': Witt cemented as KC's jewel

February 6th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- All offseason, the Royals have said they don’t ever want to go through a season like 2023 -- and all 106 losses it brought -- again. They’ve backed up the statement by bringing in seven free agents this winter, remaking the pitching staff and adding pieces to the lineup while committing $109.5 million to new additions.

They capped it all with an exclamation point for 2024 and several years beyond: They signed star shortstop to a guaranteed 11-year, $288 million extension that could keep him in Kansas City through 2037 and give him $377 million.

In giving Witt the largest contract in franchise history -- doing something that has rarely happened here before -- the Royals are sending a clear message.

“We’ve been committed to winning for a long time,” Royals CEO/chairman John Sherman said Tuesday. “There’s not a straight line between Point A and Point B. But I think at the end of the day, it can’t just be what you say, it has to be what you do. So I would hope that people would take from this and also this offseason, what [general manager] J.J. [Picollo] and his team have engineered, as indicative of our commitment to winning. We want to do something special for the fans of Kansas City.”

Starter Seth Lugo (two years, $30 million with $15 million player option for 2026)
Starter Michael Wacha (one year, $16 million with $16 million player option for ‘25)
Reliever Will Smith (one year, $5 million)
Reliever Chris Stratton (one year, $3.5 million with $4.5 million player option for ‘25)
Reliever Nick Anderson (acquired from Braves)
Outfielder Hunter Renfroe (one year, $5.5 million with $7.5 million player option for ‘25)
Utility man Garrett Hampson (one year, $2 million)
Second baseman/outfielder Adam Frazier (one year, $2 million with $8.5 million mutual option for ‘25)

Witt’s commitment to the Royals is a message, too: He believes in the direction. The 23-year-old loves Kansas City and loves the organization that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2019. He simply wants to play baseball every day, and his idols, Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia, are two players who played their entire careers with one organization.

But Witt desperately wants to win, and he wouldn’t have signed a long-term deal without assurance that the Royals would continue to build around him.

“I think now is just the perfect time,” Witt said. “... We had a bad year last year, but now [we’re] just trying to build off that. What can we do to keep performing? You saw all the moves they made this offseason. It’s a sign of hope. I felt like it was the right time, and it’s an exciting time for sure.”

Witt gives the Royals a cornerstone piece, and they hope it shows free agents and homegrown players that a vision is in place.

“When you have to acquire players via free agency or trying to trade for players, we have somebody to build around,” Picollo said. “That’s exciting for us, and it gives us reason to believe that our long-term vision is possible. That’s to sustain success over many years, be competitive year in and year out.”

The Royals, who are looking to secure funding for a new downtown ballpark with a Jackson County vote this April, want to build on the momentum Kansas City has right now.

The Kansas City Chiefs are building an NFL dynasty as they get ready for their fourth Super Bowl in five years on Sunday. Six World Cup games will be played in Kansas City in 2026. The Kansas City Current of the National Women’s Soccer League is opening what is believed to be the first women’s professional sports stadium in the world.

The Royals know how their fan base embraced them before, especially 2014-15, when they won back-to-back American League pennants and a World Series title. Witt is now their version of generational quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is also a minority owner of the Royals and one of Witt’s biggest fans. He texted Witt congratulations on Monday.

“He was pretty fired up,” Witt said. “He said, ‘Let’s go, can’t wait to see what you do for this city and what’s to come.’ I just said, ‘Bring another one home, that’s a good start.’

“…You see what they’re doing across the street with the fanbase over there, we want to get that back over here in blue,” Witt said. “That’s definitely the goal. We’re just going to keep working and keep getting better.”

The Royals have a long way to go for this all to work out. It starts at the Major League level and must trickle down to the farm system, because the Royals don’t always want to rely on free agency. A homegrown core is vitally important to their vision.

“We’ve got to scout well, we’ve got to develop well, and put players internally around Bobby,” Picollo said. “And then be able to acquire free agents when needed. That’s something that John has been open about: When the time is right, we’ll do what we need to do. This year, we needed to make some moves.

“[Extending Witt] is an indication of how we’ll operate in the future, whether it’s through our own player development and scouting or free agency. We have to acquire and put good players around Bobby year in and year out.”