The big news in the Majors on Monday was the whopping 11-year, $288.7 million extension that the Kansas City Royals gave to star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. — far and away the largest contract in franchise history, blowing Salvador Perez’s four-year, $82 million deal out of the water. It’s a move that send shockwaves around the league, one of the game’s brightest young talents committing long-term to a franchise that’s been in the depths of a seemingly interminable rebuild in recent years. With Witt locked up, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and others aboard and a new stadium on the way, the arrow finally appears to be pointing up for K.C. (Now, if they could just hit on a few more draft picks.)
But while Witt’s extension is likely to be the largest signed in the run up to spring training, it definitely won’t be the last. With the Hot Stove cooling off and teams getting ready to report to their respective camps, now is typically the time when executives pivot from adding to their rosters to managing them — the last opportunity to do so before the regular season gets rolling and players and their agents are usually less inclined to talk turkey.
With that in mind, here are seven young players who could be next in line for a long-term deal. (Note: We’re going to limit this exercise to players like Witt who aren’t yet arbitration eligible, meaning guys like Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. do not qualify.) Let’s get to it.
Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore Orioles
Really, throw a dart at the Orioles’ depth chart and you’d land on a potential candidate here, from Henderson to Adley Rutschman to Grayson Rodriguez to No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday. We’ll stick with Henderson though, who burst onto the scene in a big way while capturing AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2024. With new ownership now in place, Baltimore should be looking to get out ahead and lock up as much of its young core as possible before they hit arbitration (and eventually, free agency). There’s no reason why Baltimore can’t follow the Braves model here.
Evan Carter/Wyatt Langford, Texas Rangers
Carter broke out in a big way on the Rangers’ ride to a World Series title last fall, establishing himself as one of the premier young outfielders in the game. Also in that group, even though he’s yet to appear in a Major League game? Langford, one of the best college hitters in recent history before being taken fourth overall by Texas in last year’s draft. The Florida product got all the way to Triple-A in his draft year, torching the Minors to the tune of a .360/.480/.677 slash line and 10 homers in just 44 games. Both Langford and Carter are still six years away from free agency, but locking them up now would make a lot of sense for both sides.
Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox
Among the few things that went right for Boston in 2023 was the emergence of Casas as a true middle-of-the-order force, as the first baseman placed third in AL Rookie of the Year voting and posted a 1.034 OPS after the All-Star break. Casas is already 24 and first base-only sluggers typically don’t age great, so it would behoove him to try and cash in as soon as possible — plus, the Sox could really use a win.
Elly De La Cruz, Cincinnati Reds
De La Cruz burst onto the MLB scene like a bolt of lightning, but the excitement of his debut masked the fact that he experienced quite the learning curve in his first taste of the Majors. The infielder mustered just a .710 OPS overall in 2023, and Cincinnati was benching the switch-hitter against lefties down the stretch as it attempted to snag a Wild Card berth. Still, while there are gains to be made in his plate approach, his ceiling is as high as anyone — and the Reds will want to get him locked up before he breaks out, and the price goes up significantly. (Other young Reds like Andrew Abbott and Matt McLain are extension candidates too.)
Francisco Alvarez, New York Mets
In 2023, Alvarez became the first rookie catcher to swat 25 home runs since Wilin Rosario hit 28 back in 2012, and that was with an assist from the rarefied air of Coors Field. The former top prospect has spectacular power: He was only the second 21-year-old catcher to ever have a 25-homer season, joining Hall of Famer Johnny Bench (who hit 26 homers in 1969). His defense was also a little bit better than advertised, inspiring some optimism in his long-term future behind the plate. Add it all up, and that’s a very nice player, one who should be foundational for a Mets team that’s watched other youngsters like Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio and Mark Vientos struggle to pan out in the Majors recently. Locking him up figures to be a top priority for new president David Stearns.
George Kirby, Seattle Mariners
Handing out these sorts of deals to pitchers is always a bit dicier of a proposition, given their inherent injury risk, but Kirby’s about a good a bet as anyone — a 26-year-old with good stuff and elite command whose pitched at something very close to an ace level since breaking into the bigs back in 2022. Given the financial limitations that Mariners president Jerry Dipoto appears to be operating under — and how reliant this team is on its rotation to carry it — locking Kirby up now rather than dealing with the arbitration process would seem to be wise.
Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates selected Skenes with the No. 1 pick in the draft just last summer. Would they consider extending him before he makes his MLB debut? Why not: Pre-MLB debut extensions are becoming more common, and how else are the Pirates supposed to keep a pitcher who projects to be an ace? The Royals took a chance and extended Witt because it is their only way to keep a high-end talent. Offering Skenes an extension now may be Pittsburgh’s only way to keep him beyond his usual six years of control.