Kansas City Royals fans have been waiting for ownership to spend big ever since John Sherman purchased the team from David Glass.
That was back in 2019. Five years later, Sherman is indeed showing a willingness to do what it takes to try to get the small-market Royals into contention in the American League Central.
The Royals’ latest expenditure is their biggest yet. They agreed to an 11-year contract with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. on Monday that guarantees the 23-year-old $288.7 million.
A three-year team option could bring the total value to just under $377 million. That would keep Witt under contract through 2037 when he would be 37 years old.
The contract is the 16th-largest in major-league history and the second-biggest for a non-arbitration-eligible player behind the 14-year, $340-year deal that Fernando Tatis signed with the San Diego Padres last April.
Witt also easily surpasses the Royals’ previous largest overall contract, catcher Salvador Perez’ four-year $82-million pact.
Witt was selected second overall by the Royals in the 2019 amateur draft. He reached the major league at the start of the 2022 season then had a breakout last year when he hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases in 158 games while batting .276/.319/.495.
Witt is also the first player in major-league history to have at least 50 homers and 79 steals through the first two years of his career.
“From the moment I was drafted in 2019, the entire Royals organization and fans have treated me and my family like their own,” Witt said in a statement issued by the club. “This city and this team have felt like home since Day 1.”
It is now clear that Witt will be the Royals’ cornerstone player in their efforts to become contenders. Kansas City has finished .500 or worse for eight consecutive seasons since winning the World Series in 2015.
“From the day we drafted him we felt confident Bobby would become one of our game’s brightest stars and biggest talents,” Royals general manager J.J. Picollo said. “These last two seasons have been confirmation of that talent, and proof that he’s an even better teammate. We know he wants to win here for our fans as much as we do.”
The Royals had a dismal 56-106 record last year while finishing in last place in the AL Central. It was their third season of at least 103 losses in the last five full seasons.
Witt’s contract comes after the Royals have spent over $100 million in free agency this winter. They have signed right-handers Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo, left-handed reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Stratton and utility players Adam Frazier and Garrett Hampson.
Though the Royals finished 31 games out of first place in 2023, the division appears to be wide open this year. The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central last season with an unimposing 87-75 record and were the only team in the division to finish above .500.
There is also another underlying reason why the Royals have increased their spending despite playing in the third-smallest market in Major League Baseball.
They are trying to get a new ballpark built to the beautiful, but aging, Kauffman Stadium
The Royals are hoping voters in Jackson County, Missouri, will extend a sales tax that would help to pay for the ballpark. The measure will be on the ballot in April and would also help fund renovations to the NFL Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.
First appeared on www.forbes.com