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As soon as word began circulating that the Kansas City Royals and star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. had agreed to an 11-year, $288 million-plus contract, Oriole fans began thinking about long-term extensions for young stars such as Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Jackson Holliday.
Actually, they’ve been dreaming about those since word first began circulating that David Rubenstein was taking control of the Orioles from current Chairman and CEO John Angelos.
Perhaps Rubenstein, whose reputation seems pristine, will be approved by major league owners by Opening Day. Then, Rubenstein will think of what his first move to ingratiate himself with the fan base should be.
In December, agent Scott Boras, whose client list includes Henderson, Holliday and the recently acquired Corbin Burnes, joked that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias speaks to him about his clients often.
“Only once or twice a day,” Boras cracked. “With those kinds of things, I listen. Mike and I talk a lot and, obviously, our job is to filter those phone calls, relay them to the players, and we discuss it, see if it’s something that the player himself is interested in.”
Elias has often been asked about long-term extensions and has long since grown tired of answering questions about them.
“I’m going to keep having the same boring stance on that topic,” Elias said last Friday. “I don’t talk about it. It’s 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 make in the past or now or in the future are not going to be put out there by our front office.
“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 the 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’re currently projected to be here. It’s something that we quietly explore and work on, and we’ll just see what happens. There’s a lot of players in our core that we love and the fans love, and they’re bringing us into this era of what we hope is really good baseball.”
Elias’ quiet work has helped the Orioles. There’s often plenty of loose chatter about the team, that they’re “in” on a certain player, for example, but whenever there’s been a major move, the signing of reliever Craig Kimbrel or the trade with Milwaukee for former Cy Young Award winner Burnes, word doesn’t circulate until the deal is complete or nearly complete.
We don’t know how Rubenstein works. While he’s enjoyed hosting his Bloomberg television shows, he’s been a major figure in the investment banking world for years and not given to loosely speaking there.
Whenever Rubenstein has his initial meeting with the press, the questions of extensions will be one of the first, if not the first one he’s asked.
Oriole fans will have unrealistic expectations. Boras has cut extensions for some of his clients when they’ve asked for them, most recently a reported $125 million on a five-year extension for Houston’s Jose Altuve, but for the most part, his clients test the free-agent market.
If Henderson or Holliday wasn’t interested in an immediate extension, perhaps Rutschman might be. He was the first overall choice in the 2019 draft, and until the moment he was taken, there was uncertainty whether the Orioles would take him or Witt.
The Royals chose Witt with the second overall pick, and he’s worked out well for them.
Witt’s reported contract is for $288.777 million over 11 years. In 2028, he’ll get $30 million and $35 million in both 2029 and 2030, when he’ll turn 30. From 2031-2034, Witt will get $35 million a season unless he opts out. The Royals have a three-year club option from 2035-2037 for $89 million.
Without the deal, Witt, who’s completed two major league seasons, would be eligible for free agency in 2027, so in effect, this is a three-year extension.
Opt-outs are a necessary evil, and one side is usually unhappy with them. If Witt performs brilliantly, and he’s a top player when he’s 30, he’ll likely test the free-agent market. If he doesn’t, that means that’s he’s been underperforming and Kansas City is stuck for a four-year, $130 million deal.
For now, Royals fans who are awaiting word on a new stadium are ecstatic because a new owner has begun spending money on free agents and on a franchise player.
We’ll soon see if Oriole fans will be just as happy.
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions just ahead of spring training next week. Please send yours to: [email protected].
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