The Royals took another step Thursday toward keeping the core elements of their youthful roster intact by reaching a long-term contract extension with shortstop Alcides Escobar.
“Defense changes the momentum of a game so much,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “and Alcides is a terrific shortstop for us. You can’t win without a great shortstop, and we have one.”
Escobar, 25, agreed to a four-year extension through the 2015 season for a guaranteed $10.5 million. The deal also includes two club option seasons that could push the package’s value to $21.75 million.
The new deal boosts Escobar’s salary this season to $1 million from a previously negotiated $519,500. He will then make a guaranteed $3 million in each of the next three years.
The Royals hold $500,000 buyout clauses for 2016 and 2017, which project as Escobar’s first two years of free-agent eligibility. If not exercised, he will make $5.25 million in 2016 and $6.5 million in 2017.
The contract contains award bonuses but no performance bonuses.
“I’m so happy for this situation right now,” Escobar said. “I want to be here for a long time. I like to play for Ned (Yost). I like that Salvador (Perez) signed, too. I’ve talked to my family, and they’re happy, too.”
The deal comes 17 days after the Royals reached a five-year extension with Perez for $7 million. That deal includes three option years and a potential maximum value of $26.75 million.
“Salvy was one of the first steps,” Moore said. “When we came into this year, one of our goals as an organization was, hopefully, to sign Alcides long-term. We knew he was open to that idea. Shortstops don’t grow on trees.”
The Royals acquired Escobar with outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi from Milwaukee in a Dec. 19, 2010 trade for former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt.
Yost pushed to obtain Escobar after watching him develop in the Brewers’ system while serving as Milwaukee’s manager from 2003-08.
“He’s been everything I knew he would be,” Yost said. “I’ve loved this kid from the minute I laid eyes on him years ago in Milwaukee … I think he’s a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop.
“I personally think he’s the best shortstop in the American League, if not in all of baseball. I think he’s going to continue to improve offensively. He’s just scratching the surface in what he’s going to be able to accomplish offensively.”
Escobar led the majors last year in assists, chances and putouts while batting .254 with four homers and 46 RBIs in 158 games. He recovered from a slow offensive start by batting .286 after June 6 and .324 in September.
“I’m feeling much better at home plate,” Escobar said. “I’m working a lot with (hitting coach) Kevin Seitzer. My goal now is to hit .290 or .300.”
The Royals continue to seek a long-term extension with left fielder Alex Gordon.
“You go one at a time,” Moore said. “It’s got to be a match that everybody is comfortable with, but we’re determined to keep as many of these young players together as we can — knowing full well it has to fit within our salary structure going forward.
“It’s going to get a little sticky for us. It’s going to get a little hairy as we get into 2014, 2015 and 2016. That’s why Alcides being willing to be here gives us security and some cost certainty.”