If Witt Jr. is worth $288 million, what price is Elly?

Bobby Witt Jr. signed a massive extension in a win-win-win deal that establishes the shortstop as the face of the Kansas City Royals franchise for the foreseeable future.

It also proved that many of the limitations on small market teams are actually ones that they impose on themselves. As Ken Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic:

Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.’s 11-year, $288.7 million extension is precisely the kind of deal low-revenue teams can make, have made and should continue to make in the near future.

Every club, no matter the size of its market, is more than capable of locking up at least one star player for $100 million-plus.

https://theathletic.com/5253103/2024/02/05/rosenthal-bobby-witt-extension-royals/

Personally, I could not be happier. I kind of love it every time billionaire owners assume a little of the risk by putting their hands in their pockets. We all expect Witt Jr. to be worth every cent, but this is a sport, and he only has 308 games under his belt. Strange things happen.

Despite being pleased for Witt Jr., it is widely known that I’m not his biggest fan. I accept that he is an exciting player (especially in fantasy baseball circles), and I hope that Witt Jr. – as the contagiously enthusiastic Shawn Spradling posted – is America’s Shortstop in the 2026 World Baseball Classic, but to my mind, he is a flawed player.

Without wanting to sound too Billy Beane-ish, he doesn’t get on-base. At least, not enough to justify the hype.

In his debut campaign, Witt Jr. posted an OBP of just .294. This improved last year, but he is still below league average. Within the current crop of exciting youngsters:- Julio Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll, and Adley Rutschman, it is Witt Jr. who owns the lowest OBP.

And don’t get me started on another Moneyball quote of “Don’t steal. If they are going to give away outs, let them”, as the Royals’ shortstop led MLB when he was caught stealing 15 times last year. Do you know the last time a major leaguer was caught 15 times in one season? No, me neither.

Travel 600 miles east of Kansas City, and you will find a similarly dynamic shortstop. Elly De La Cruz was box office viewing last season, from his debut home run to his three stolen bases in one plate appearance. Like Witt Jr., De La Cruz has 100 percentile sprint speed, along with elite arm strength, and, wow, can he hit the ball!

Also, like Witt Jr., De La Cruz failed to post an OBP above .300 OBP in his debut season. In fact, the similarities between their rookie campaigns are shockingly similar.

Just one year later, Witt Jr. transformed into a Baseball Savant superstar, which begs the question… what does 2024 hold for De la Cruz?

Bobby Witt Jr. 2023

Witt Jr.’s MLB career now covers more than 300 games, with a mightily impressive stat line for a 23-year-old.

NameTeamGHRRRBISB
Bobby Witt Jr.KCR3085017917679

Without factoring in any improvement in De la Cruz’s production – which feels unfair given the huge strides forward Witt Jr. made in his second year – the Reds’ shortstop is on pace to become an equally valuable player over his first 300 games. Just imagine the stat line if he irons out a few of the wrinkles in his game.

NameTeamGHRRRBISB
Elly De La CruzCIN30841211138110

Given what I know about the Reds’ ownership, I suspect there will be no 11-year extension on the table, even if De La Cruz turns into the Dominican version of Witt Jr. by the end of the year. I suspect Bob Castellini, Reds’ principal owner, will not be quick to reinvest the millions he has saved by gutting the roster over the last couple of years.

Just as I was sceptical about Witt Jr.’s skillset before the start of last season, so am I about De La Cruz’s. I can foresee a scenario whereby he gets off to a sluggish start, and the Reds have to send him down for a reboot; they are already overwhelmed with infielders.

But I can also see him crushing from the get-go and leading the league in runs, home runs and stolen bases by the end of April. De La Cruz has the potential to be MLB’s most compelling player. 

Although, to temper my enthusiasm, back in 2019, the Reds’ next-big-thing was Aristides Aquino. “The Punisher” destroyed 19 home runs in just 56 games and was outpacing eventual Rookie of the Year winner Yordan Alvarez. Last year, Aquino hit .186 in the Japanese League. Life comes at you quickly.

I doubt another player in the majors has potential outcomes as extreme as De La Cruz. And I also doubt the Reds will be able to extend him if he has a Witt Jr.-calibre 2024.

So, if Witt is worth $288 million, how much is De La Cruz worth? We’ll see how 2024 goes; get back to me in October.

Article by @GavTramps. Want to share your baseball opinions in 2024 with a Bat Flips & Nerds audience of 10,000+? Click on the “Write for us” link above.

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