I tweeted out a preface for this article earlier this week. I was, frankly, kind of surprised at the results.
I get that Bobby Witt Jr. is pretty clearly the most talented player on this team and provides the Royals with the potential for a generational type of All-Star that can anchor a lineup for over a decade. However, $330M is a ton of money to guarantee one player and I know how self-aware Royals fans are in that regard. I guess I kind of just expected a majority of you to side with one of the more frugal options.
Be that as it may, Witt Jr. is hard to argue with. After doubling against the White Sox last night, he’s got 46 XBH and 26 SB in his rookie season while pacing for ~2.5 fWAR as a 22-year old. Would anyone be surprised if this was his absolute floor? I wouldn’t be. If you sign him up for 13 more years you’d be getting his age-23 season through his age-35 season and could reasonably expect anywhere from 35 to55 fWAR if he stays healthy. Any outcome in that range is surplus value for the contract. It’s also a guaranteed ~$25M on the books every single year for the foreseeable future which, even if it shouldn’t, probably hampers their payroll flexibility as they move to a downtown stadium in a few years. The upside is that you have Bobby Witt Jr. so…pros and cons.
For MJ, I basically slotted his hypothetical contract (10/$180M) right under the deal that Austin Riley got in Atlanta (10/$212M). Melendez and Riley were both thought of in roughly the same vein in terms of prospect status before making their big league debuts. Riley wasn’t nearly as good as Melendez his first go in the big leagues, but he’s been one of the premier hitters in baseball the last couple seasons and is on pace for over 5.0 fWAR as a 25-year old. Melendez being a catcher helps his case, but he hasn’t produced *yet* the way Riley had when he signed his extension so there’s some similarities as well as plenty of differences between the two. Could Melendez potentially get more? Sure. I don’t think he’d get more than 10/$200M though so the ballpark is fine here I think.
As it relates to Pratto and Pasquantino…getting them both to sign for deals around 8/$80M right now would be so damn convenient for the long-term outlook of this team. Pratto raised his wRC+ at the big league level to 109 with a big night last night and is showing why he was thought of as one of the better power hitters in MiLB coming into the season. Pasquantino has been a force in the lineup from the moment he was called up and looks like a lock for a middle of the order bat long-term. Both guys are fantastic around the bag at first base and while Pratto’s range makes him clearly the better overall defender, both guys should create enough defensive value at first base to justify signing at such a young age.
So…who are you picking? If you had to just pick one option…which one are you picking?
I am so torn. I could literally be swayed between two of these three options on any given day. This may be an unpopular opinion, and I’m sure I’ll catch heat for it, but I would probably avoid an extension like this for Bobby Witt Jr. Witt is an incredible talent. His ultimate “floor” is higher than 99% of Major League Baseball players. I just don’t know how an organization that has a realistic cap on what they’re going to spend operates with a contract like that on the books. I’d just assume they spend all the money, but we know that’s not realistic. Any injury that caused Witt to miss significant time while under a mega-contract would be detrimental to the Royals roster. Is that the way it should be? No. Is that the way it will be? Probably. And for that reason, under this specific exercise, I’m out.
That leaves us with the two first basemen and MJ. When I started this mini thought project, I was anticipating myself just taking MJ at the hypothetical 10/$180M and not thinking twice about it. Then I looked at Vinnie’s numbers again and Nick Pratto blasted two home runs last night and I went welllllll…
Here’s a terrible breakdown of what these two options would look like on one of those magical spreadsheets:
– 10 total years across 10 seasons
– $180M total
– $18M AAV
– 1 player
– A projected 25-40 total fWAR
Nick & Vinnie:
– 16 total years over 8 seasons
– $160M total
– $20M AAV
– 2 players
– A projected 32-48 fWAR
I don’t even know how to make that make more sense but hopefully it makes some semblance of sense. I think it’s pretty obvious that, offensively, these three guys are pretty close. The biggest separator between MJ and the other two is that, if MJ winds up catching long-term and is good behind the plate, he’d be a freaking steal at 10/$180M. If he’s just an average left fielder defensively, you’re probably toeing the line between a fair amount of value and surplus value. Which is fine because that’s basically Nick and Vinnie at that point.
If you made me pick right now, I’d probably lock in MJ Melendez for the next decade.
Outside of Witt Jr., I think MJ has the most superstar upside of any player on this team right now. I think his framing issues were totally over blown, but even if you don’t like him as a framer, ABS is inevitable at this point and in three years MJ’s blocking and throwing ability will make him one of the most valuable catchers in baseball. I also think he’s capable of playing a fantastic right field. We know his arm will play, he’s shown flashes of making great catches in the outfield, and he’s literally been out there for less than a year. Maybe he’s Willson Contreras in five years. One of the most consistent performers in baseball behind the plate who had to play some outfield early on before becoming Chicago’s every day catcher. Maybe he’s Brian McCann. What’s the worst case scenario? Kyle Schwarber?
MJ is one of just 60 players in baseball with 300 PA and a BB/K of 0.50 or better and he’s just 23 years old. He’s tied for fourth among all rookies with 14 home runs, third in BB%, 12th in ISO, 13th in Chase%, 9th in Barrel%, 10th in HardHit%, 8th in xwOBA…all while splitting time behind home plate and learning the outfield for the first time.
I’ll stop rambling. It’s too close a call for me to disagree with anyone’s opinion on the matter. If I was John Sherman, I’d be locking up Vinnie, Pratto, MJ, and Michael Massey for the next 8-10 years this offseason. Get it done. Get fans excited about the future of this team. Get fans on board with your downtown stadium, even if it means they can’t sign any free agents this year. You have an incredibly talented young core of hitters ready to take the AL Central by storm. Keep them together longer than the last core, no matter your preference of who stays and who has to walk.