The Mariners have locked up one of the sport’s brightest young stars on a record-setting contract, announcing late Friday night they’ve signed Rookie of the Year candidate Julio Rodriguez to an extension. The deal, which begins this season, guarantees him $210MM over 12 years and contains both player and club options that can extend the length of the contract and push the total value as high as $470MM. Rodriguez, an Octagon client, also reportedly receives a full no-trade clause.
It is one of the more complex contracts agreed upon in major league history. According to reports from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, Rodriguez will make $120MM through 2029. Per Rosenthal, that takes the form of a $15MM signing bonus to be paid up front, with $105MM to be distributed between 2023-29. After the contract’s seventh year (2028), the Mariners must decide whether to effectively re-extend Rodriguez for either eight or ten years, with the size and value of that long-term “club option” dependent on how Rodriguez finishes in MVP voting.
At minimum, Seattle will be deciding on whether to extend the contract by eight years and another $200MM. That figure could escalate as follows, depending on Rodriguez’s finishes in MVP balloting over the next seven years:
- $240MM over eight years with two or three top ten finishes
- $260MM over eight years with four top ten finishes
- $280MM over eight years if he wins an MVP and finishes in the top five once more or finishes in the top five of MVP balloting on three occasions
- $350MM over ten years if he wins two MVP awards or finishes among the top five in balloting on four occasions
In the event Rodriguez hits that highest threshold and the Mariners exercise the option, the contract would max out at 18 years and $470MM in total value.
If the Mariners do not exercise their multi-year option after Year 7, Rodriguez will have a five-year, $90MM player option he can exercise after Year 8 of the contract. (That option value could escalate as high as $125.5MM based on his finishes in Silver Slugger voting and All-Star appearances). That $90MM figure is considered guaranteed money, as is the case with all player options. Between the $120MM he’ll be paid over the next eight seasons and the $90MM base value of the player option, Rodriguez’s guarantee lands at the aforementioned $210MM. There is, of course, a scenario where the Mariners do not pick up their 8- to 10-year “club option,” and Rodriguez also declines his five-year “player option,” which would then allow him to reach free agency after collecting $120MM over eight years, when he’ll be heading into his age-30 campaign.
Rodriguez, 21, broke camp with the Mariners this season and, after a rough couple of weeks to begin the year, burst into immediate stardom and has established himself as one of the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year honors. He’s currently hitting .269/.328/.471 with 20 home runs, 19 doubles, three triples and 23 steals (in 29 tries) — plus above-average defensive contributions in center field.
Those numbers are at least slightly skewed by a poor start to the year in which Rodriguez batted .136/.208/.159 with a 45% strikeout rate. Dating back to April 22, Rodriguez has mashed at a .285/.342/.508 clip. That production is about 46% better than league average after weighting for park and league, by measure of wRC+, which places him in a three-way tie with Alex Bregman and the also recently-extended Austin Riley for 12th-best among qualified Major League hitters. Rodriguez also ranks 13th in the Majors in both average exit velocity (92 mph) and hard-hit rate (49.6%) in that time, and his 14.9% barrel rate is MLB’s ninth-best mark.
Add in the fact that he’s done all of this at 21 years of age and after skipping the Triple-A level entirely, and his rookie season becomes all the more remarkable. Given that youth and lack of upper-minors seasoning, it’s quite possible that even though Rodriguez already ranks among the game’s best hitters, we’ve yet to see the best he has to offer.
From a defensive standpoint, Rodriguez has more than held his own in center field this season, turning in positive marks in Defensive Runs Saved (2), Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3) and Outs Above Average (5). Many scouting reports penned before his MLB debut suggested that as Rodriguez ages and continues to fill out, he could be destined for a corner outfield slot, but given his 70- or even 80-grade raw power and the solid work he’s flashed in center this season, he’ll have both the bat and likely the defensive chops to be an above-average contributor in right or left field.
The $210MM guarantee will give Rodriguez the record for largest contract ever signed by a player with under a year of Major League service time. That distinction currently belongs to Rays shortstop Wander Franco, who inked an 11-year, $182MM extension last November.
Rodriguez will topple that mark with ease, although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Franco wasn’t promoted until midseason and inked his deal in the winter, when the Rays had six full seasons of club control left over him. Because Rodriguez made the Opening Day roster, he’ll get a full year of service in 2022 and would “only” have had five additional years of club control remaining. In that respect, he could technically be considered more of a one-plus player (between one and two years of service time), although even when viewing the contract through that lens, it’s still a record-setting agreement; Ke’Bryan Hayes’ $70MM extension in Pittsburgh was the previous record for a player with between one and two years of service.
Regardless of which service bracket one thinks more aptly applies to Rodriguez, this new deal now stands as the largest contract ever promised to a player with fewer than two years of Major League service time. In that aspect, Rodriguez and the Major League Baseball Players Association are surely pleased to see the precedent for young, superstar extensions moved even further forward.
All that said, there’s still potential for the contract to be quite favorable for the Mariners. Rodriguez would’ve likely earned near the league minimum in salary over the next two seasons (plus any payouts from the newly collectively bargained bonus pool for pre-arbitration players). A player with his upside and early dominance would likely have done quite well in arbitration, and while we can never know exactly how much he might’ve earned through that process, arbitration is generally based on precedent. Looking for recent comparables, Mookie Betts secured $57.5MM for his three arbitration seasons. If we put Rodriguez into that broad vicinity, his remaining five years of club control might have netted him somewhere in the range of $60MM — perhaps a few million more if he’d taken home an MVP Award and/or pushed the Betts precedent a bit further.
Rodriguez will be paid $15MM on average over the next eight seasons, with at least two free agent seasons bought out. That obviously pales in comparison to what he could’ve earned on the open market had he gone year-to-year and hit the free-agent market in advance of his age-27 season, and the Mariners will have an opportunity to keep him from hitting free agency at any point in his prime. That risk-reward tradeoff is the nature of early contract extensions, of course. There’s obviously ample risk of injury or downturn in performance for Rodriguez, all of which is baked into the relative discount rate for those open-market seasons.
From a team payroll vantage point, there’s ample room for Seattle to make a commitment of this nature. A significant portion of the team’s recent rebuild was dedicated to clearing long-term clutter from the books — e.g., the Robinson Cano trade — and the team’s long-term commitments are now rather minimal. Left-hander Robbie Ray is signed through the 2026 season, as is shortstop J.P. Crawford, but they’ll combine for just $37MM at that point. That would’ve only been Rodriguez’s fifth big league season, so the salaries on his contract will not quite have escalated to their maximum levels.
Looking more short-term, the books are also still accommodating. The Mariners, who’ll see veterans Mitch Haniger and Adam Frazier reach free agency at season’s end, had just over $63MM in guaranteed money on the 2023 payroll prior to this contract. That number doesn’t include an $8MM option for righty Chris Flexen, nor does it include a handful of arbitration raises: Luis Castillo (earning $7.35MM this season), Diego Castillo ($2.315MM), Paul Sewald ($1.735MM), Ty France (pre-arb) and Erik Swanson (pre-arb).
It’s a momentous day in Mariners history, one that firmly drives home the organization’s “win-now” mentality as it inches toward a postseason berth that would smash a two-decade playoff drought — currently the longest in major North American professional sports. There’s risk for both parties, but the contract is a continuation of the ever-growing trend of extending young stars at nine-figure rates that guarantee a player’s entire prime. The contract also locks Rodriguez down as the new face of Mariners baseball for the next decade-plus, ensuring them a charismatic, marketable star around whom to both build the roster and sell the product to the fanbase.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com first reported that the two sides were nearing an extension worth more than $200MM guaranteed and as much as $450MM in total value. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the contract length and exact guarantee. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported the agreement was in place. Passan and provided specifics on the financials. Rosenthal also reported the deal contained a full no-trade clause.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.