MLB Hot Stove Lowdown: Royals Extend Bobby Witt Jr.

Another young star player locked in a long-term contract on Monday, with Bobby Witt Jr. securing an 11-year deal with the Royals. While we wait for the remaining top free agents, the reliever market has been the most active of any position this winter. The Mariners landed another quality reliever, acquiring Gregory Santos from the White Sox. And the Yankees made a trade with the Dodgers to bolster their bullpen, getting Caleb Ferguson. Let's break it all down.

Royals Sign Bobby Witt Jr. to 11-year, $288.7 million contract

The Royals have secured their star shortstop for the next decade, signing Bobby Witt Jr. to an 11-year, $288.7 million contract extension. It's the largest contract in franchise history, locking the 23-year-old superstar in through his age-34 season. The deal does include opt-outs after each of the final four seasons and a club option for three additional years and $89 million, for a total potential value of $377 million. Witt Jr. is coming off an incredible season, hitting .276/.319/.495 with 30 homers, 97 runs, 96 RBI, and 49 steals across 694 plate appearances.

After going 20/30 with a .254 batting average as a rookie in 2022, his value as a first-round hitter in rotisserie leagues hinged on him making strides in his power and batting average. In his second season, he fully broke out, improving across the board for elite five-category production. Witt Jr. made more contact, chased fewer pitches, and hit the ball harder. While his near-700 plate appearances aided his season output, his 17.4 percent strikeout, 11.5 percent barrel, and 45.4 percent hard-hit rates support the production and hint at more batting average upside, solidifying Witt Jr. as a top-three pick in most fantasy formats.

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Yankees acquire Caleb Ferguson from Dodgers

New York sent prospects Matt Gage and Christian Zazueta to the Dodgers in exchange for Ferguson, who has one year of team control left before hitting free agency next winter. He's the second left-handed reliever the Yankees acquired from the Dodgers after trading for Victor Gonzalez earlier this offseason. The 27-year-old southpaw produced a 3.43 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and a 70/23 K/BB ratio across 60 1/3 innings. A .364 BABIP inflated his hit rate and ballooned his WHIP. But he was able to limit the damage with a 25.9 percent strikeout rate and 49.1 percent ground ball rate, allowing only five barreled balls all season. The Dodgers trusted Ferguson in key situations, picking up three saves and seven wins for Los Angeles. Effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, he should slot into a prominent middle relief role with the Yankees.

In clearing a spot on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers were able to sign Ryan Brasier to a two-year, $9 million deal. Brasier was cut by the Red Sox last season and signed on with Los Angeles in June. He posted a 0.70 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, and a 38/10 K/BB ratio across 38 2/3 innings with the team last season. The 36-year-old right-hander gives the team some depth in the middle innings.

Mariners trade for Gregory Santos

The Mariners seem to consistently produce quality relievers. This time, they acquired one from the White Sox, sending prospects Perlander Berroa and Zach DeLoach to Chicago for Gregory Santos. The 24-year-old right-hander posted a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 66/17 K/BB ratio across 66 1/3 innings while converting five saves. Santos displayed excellent skills for a reliever, with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, a 5.9 percent walk rate, and a 13.4 percent swinging-strike rate. With that velocity and swing-and-miss stuff, the Mariners will surely try to unlock more strikeouts from Santos. Most recent reports indicated he may not be ready for the start of training camp after ending the season with elbow inflammation. But he'll likely slot in as the third in line behind Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash when healthy.

Going to the White Sox, Berroa is an interesting prospect. The 23-year-old right-hander has tantalizing swing-and-miss ability, but his control issues forced a move to the bullpen. He posted a 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and a 101/39 K/BB ratio across 65 1/3 innings in Double-A last season before debuting with the Mariners, striking out three batters over 1 2/3 scoreless frames. If he can improve his walk rate, there's future closer potential in Berroa. Meanwhile, DeLoach adds another outfielder to the mix in Chicago. The 25-year-old hit 23 homers with a .868 OPS in Triple-A last season but struck out at a 27.8 percent clip. He'll need to make more contact to have an impact at the major league level.