Bobby Witt Jr. becomes latest young MLB star to sign big bucks extension

The deal was announced, and the news was probably just minutes old when some around Birdland wondered whether their team might soon have interest in a similar arrangement.

Monday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals, who ranked 24th in 2023 in MLB team payroll, a few steps ahead of the Orioles, locked up one of their bright young stars to a huge contract.

When your team has its own bright young starts – players like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson and maybe soon will be adding Jackson Holliday to that list - it’s only natural to wonder and hope that they remain Orioles for a long, long time.

While the Royals extension deal with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., 23, has opt-outs, they don’t start until after the 2030 season. He will have nine years in the majors at that point.

Signing up young talent well before free agency is a gamble when any team does it. But it is one pre-emptive strike that the so-called “small market” clubs have against losing those players later to the big spenders via free agency.

Now they just need those players to stay healthy and productive to make the expenditure worth it. Yep, always a gamble. But also, always a way to keep those players in your uniform.

Witt agreed to a deal for 11 years worth $288.7 million. That is a staggering amount for a team that never previously had handed out a contract to player for more than the $82 million extension that catcher Salvador Perez got.

The deal, per several reports, has a club option for three more years that would add another $89 million and make it a 14-year pact worth $377.7 million.

The average annual value is $26.25 million in the first 11 years and $26.98 million if it goes through 14 years.

In 2019, the Orioles selected Rutschman No. 1 in the MLB Draft and Witt was taken next by Kansas City. The Orioles certainly still feel they made a great choice and are very happy with how it has worked out. At the time, they apparently had a few spirited debates about Witt and whether he should be the No. 1 pick.

Both players have been really good for their teams and both clubs figure that will continue for a long time.

In 308 games over the first two years of his career, Witt has a .770 OPS. In his first 267 games Rutschman has an OPS of .808 and Henderson is at .810 for 184 games. All three play premium positions.

Some defensive metrics rate Witt well at short, but not all. But there is no denying his blazing speed makes him a clear five-tool talent and he can beat you in a lot of ways.

Via Wins Above Replacement for the 2023 season, Witt (who hit 30 homers with 49 stolen bases and with an .813 OPS) posted a 5.7 to rank 11th among all MLB position players. Rutschman at 5.1 rated 16th and Henderson at 4.6 was 25th.

When he met with reporters Friday via Zoom to discuss adding pitcher Corbin Burnes, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was asked yet again about possibly beginning extension talks with some of his young stars.

"I’m going to keep having the same boring stance on that topic. I don’t talk about it,” said Elias. “It is something that I think is best approached or contemplated quietly. I think it helps with business with the agents and players when they know that any efforts that we made in the past or now or the future are not going to be put out there by our front office.

“But we’re doing a lot of really good stuff in this organization. We’ve built up an incredible core of talent in the minors and majors. We’re enjoying the fruits of that right now, we’re adding to it. And certainly, exploring opportunities to keep guys longer than they are currently projecting to be here is something that we quietly explore and work on and we’ll just see what happens. But there are a lot of players in our core that we love. And the fans love. And they are bringing us into this era of what we hope is really good baseball."

Agent Scott Boras, who represents both Henderson and Holliday, is not known for signing extensions before his stars get to free agency where 30 teams can bid on them. We need to keep in mind that it takes two to tango here and the player side needs to be open to signing such a deal, even one that can produce the dollars that Witt just got. Rutschman is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council.

The O’s incoming new ownership group may be more inclined to pursue a deal such as this with one or more of the O’s young stars, but we just don’t know much about that yet.

But we are seeing more and more of these type deals around MLB. The Milwaukee Brewers this offseason signed 19-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio in December to an eight-year deal for $82 million. Chourio has not even played in the majors yet.

It’s fair to wonder, even while understanding the Boras aspect is a real challenge for Baltimore management, whether one of these deals will be in the O’s future.  



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