The Kansas City Royals just made a massive commitment to their future with an 11-year, $288.8 million extension of their young star Bobby Witt Jr.
This extension is such a departure from the way the organization has done things up until now, it's hard to even imagine they did it. This is a team that has won more than half their games just four times since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
Before 2024, KC has only had a payroll of more than $100 million four times, from 2015 through 2018, per Fueled by Sports.
The disinterest in spending on payroll wasn't always the company line. In the late eighties and early nineties, the Royals usually were among the league leaders in payroll. In fact, in 1990, they led the majors with a payroll of $23,617,090, again according to Fueled by Sports.
After the strike 1994, the Royals weren't relevant again until for 20 years. The organization turned toward a philosophy of extreme frugality. Despite selecting high in most drafts, they often chose players who could be signed cheaply rather on talent. They didn't spend money of good free agents or to keep their best players.
Over the years, they would re-sign a fan favorite now and then. Mike Sweeney, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez all were signed by the club. Kansas City did enjoy a resurgence in competitiveness a decade ago with back-to-back World Series appearances and a championship in 2015. That team was built around a few homegrown players and others added by some astute trades. This brief period was not the norm for the Royals for most of the last three decades.
Once that team dispersed, the Royals went into rebuild mode, but didn't help themselves with draft strategies and player development. Now, there is a new owner, a new general manager, and a new manager that seem to be much different than their predecessors.
This offseason, the Royals have spent money for the first time in a long time. After a year of evaluation under new management, the teams signed Will Smith, Chris Stratton, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Hunter Renfroe, and Adam Frazier. On paper, these veterans should be better than the departed youthful players they are replacing.
Cynically, it could be argued that owner John Sherman may have been willing to up the payroll $20 million plus in an effort to sway the vote for a new stadium that is coming in April. The Witt signing, however, is a different matter. It is a serious commitment for the future of the team, regardless of what stadium they play in.
If the contract is played out through all of the four player options, and the team option, it will be nearly five times more money than paid out for the next highest contract in team history, which is Perez' four-year, $82 million deal that will expire after the 2025 season, per Spotrac.
Bobby Witt Jr's contract could make Kansas City Royals more attractive to other free agents
Witt's contract keeps him in Kansas City for the next seven years, with four player options after that. Those options should spur the Royals to make every effort to stay competitive. The initial seven years should give the Royals time to strengthen their player development and work toward adding younger players from within as Witt gets a little older.
It will also allow them to be a bigger player in free agency and player acquisitions via trades to ensure Witt wants to stay in Kansas City through his option years, which will pay him $35 million a season if he stays. As of now, he seems happy to be where he is.
In fact, this signing could also make the Royals more appealing to future free agents and to those currently on the roster with player option s in upcoming seasons. Witt is a guy others will want to play with.
Yes, this extension, and the free agent signings over this past offseason, will probably convince voters to give Sherman the help he wants on a new downtown stadium. Witt's deal also serves as a long-term commitment by Sherman that he wants to build a winning team in Kansas City in addition to a stadium. He has made it obvious he wanted to make Witt the cornerstone of the future, and he was willing to pay to keep him here.
The Royals are never going to be the Dodgers, Yankees, or Mets when it comes to spending money. They can do a better job of developing players within their minor league system. They can continue to look for veteran players that aren't the bottom-of-the-barrel leavings of the rest of the majors to fill in holes here and there, and they can continue to be more transactional and look to better their roster when opportunities present themselves.