The Kansas City Royals agreed with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr on an 11-year deal worth more than $288.7m guaranteed, according to multiple sources, locking up one of baseball’s young stars as the club tries to turn around its fortunes and persuade a weary fanbase to invest in a new stadium.
The deal includes a three-year, $89m team option that would drive the value to more than $377m and keep Witt in Kansas City through the 2037 season. The 23-year-old’s guaranteed salary makes it the 16th-largest current deal in Major League Baseball and second-biggest pre-arbitration agreement behind the 14-year, $340m contract the Padres gave Fernando Tatis Jr last April.
The Royals plan a Tuesday news conference to discuss the longest and richest deal in club history.
It includes a signing bonus riffing on Witt’s lucky jersey No 7 of $7,777,777, payable in seven installments, with the first due within 60 days of the contract’s approval by the commissioner’s office. Witt will receive $2m this year, then in the three years he would have been eligible for arbitration: $7m in 2025, $13m in 2026 and $19m in 2027.
Witt will earn $30m in 2028, the first year after he would have been eligible for free agency, and $35m each in 2029 and 2030. He has four player options at $35m annually from 2031-34, then the Royals have their three-year team option that would pay $33m in 2035 and $28m each in 2036 and 2037.
If all the options are included, Witt would be 37 by the time the contract expires.
“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.”
The Royals selected Witt second overall in the 2019 amateur draft, and he rocketed through the minors while winning just about every accolade possible. He made his big league debut in 2022, hitting 20 homers and stealing 30 bases, then had a breakthrough sophomore season in which he became the only Royals player in the 30-30 club.
Witt finished with 30 homers and 49 steals, making him the only player in major league history with 50 homers and 79 steals through their first two seasons.
“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 JJ 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 spent more than $100m in free agency this offseason, hoping to turn around a beleaguered club coming off a 106-loss season. That investment, coupled with Witt’s massive contract, also comes as the Royals are trying to convince fans in Jackson county, Missouri, to extend a sales tax that would help to pay for a new downtown ballpark.
The Royals are expected to announce their preferred stadium location in the next couple of weeks. After a contentious political battle, the sales tax measure – which also would help to fund renovations to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs – was recently approved for the April ballot.
“We are extraordinarily proud to announce a historic deal with a very special player,’” said Royals owner John Sherman, who bought the club not long after Witt was drafted. “I’m thrilled that this ensures Bobby will compete in a Royals uniform for many years to come. Bobby makes us better, and I’m grateful for his commitment to our fans, our city and our team.”
The deal also was approved by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a minority owner of the Royals, who tweeted, “Congrats my man!!!”
“He’s a role model for me,” Witt said of Mahomes recently, “just how he goes about it on and off the field. He texts me, ‘Hey, see you working out. How are things going?’ And I’m going, ‘Wow.’ I show my fiancee, ‘Look who just texted me!’”
These are fast becoming halcyon days in Kansas City. After the Chiefs beat the Ravens for their fourth AFC title in the past five years, they arrived in Las Vegas this weekend to finish their Super Bowl preparations. They face the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of the title game they won in 2020 on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
While the Chiefs are led by Mahomes, the two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP, the Royals can now point toward Witt as the cornerstone of their franchise. He led the club in games played, hits, triples, homers, RBI, stolen bases and just about every other advanced metric last season, and he was second in the AL in hits, third in stolen bases and ninth in batting average.