J-Rod, Mariners agree on mega-extension into 2030s

August 27th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Julio Rodríguez is going to be the face of the Mariners for a long, long time.

The club announced on Friday night that it has reached a contract extension with their prized rookie. The deal could run through at least through the 2034 season -- 12 guaranteed years -- with options that could carry five more years through 2039.

Hours after MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez first reported that the star rookie was on the cusp of signing a megadeal extension, the team officially announced the agreement during the sixth inning of Friday’s game against Cleveland. 

“This is a great day for my family and me,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “I have always wanted to spend my whole career here, in Seattle, with this team and with these fans. I want to win here, in Seattle. That was what I told my agents, and what I told Jerry [Dipoto, president of baseball operations]. I am so happy to be here.”

According to a source, the deal is worth $210 million guaranteed and carries the possibility of maxing out as the longest and largest in MLB history at $470 million. Based on a variety of player and team options, it can be worth seven, 12, 15 or 17 years beyond the 2022 season.

• The base is for seven years and $105 million beginning next year, plus a $15 million signing bonus, taking him through the 2029 season. But after ‘28, the Mariners must determine whether to pick up a club option that is dependent on Rodriguez’s performance in AL MVP Award voting.

• The first club option is for eight or 10 years and ranges from $200 million to $350 million based on MVP balloting, whether Rodriguez wins and where he finishes in the preceding seasons. If Seattle exercises its club option, the guaranteed value reaches $320 million and could possibly push as high as $470 million. The largest contract by total value in MLB history is the 12-year, $426.5 million deal that Mike Trout signed with the Angels in 2019.

• If the Mariners don’t pick up the option after Rodriguez’s seventh season, he can exercise a player option following his eighth season (2029) for five years and $90 million -- which underlines the 13-year structure and $210 million floor. It’s also possible that Rodriguez could turn down the player option and reach free agency before turning 30.

• He can increase the player option to $125.5 million, or by up to $35.5 million, via incentives based on All-Star Game appearances and Silver Slugger Awards.

The value of the club option will break down as follows:

  • $200 million over eight years if Rodríguez receives no MVP votes in his first eight seasons
  • $240 million if he finishes in the top 10 twice or thrice
  • $260 million if he finishes in the top 10 four times
  • $280 million if he wins one MVP Award and places in the top five one other time, or places in the top five three times without winning
  • $350 million if he wins two MVP Awards or places in the top five four times without winning

The base deal buys out Rodríguez’s pre-arbitration years, which probably would’ve only included 2022-23 based on the likelihood of him achieving Super Two status, and the arbitration years, which would be the four years after if he attained Super Two, as well as two free-agent years -- all at a $15 million average annual value, before the club and player options come into play. The earliest that Rodríguez could’ve achieved free agency would’ve been after the 2027 season.

At first glance, it looks like a win-win for both sides: The Mariners lock up an emerging cornerstone at potentially below-market value in the longer term, and Rodríguez locks up a guaranteed $210 million, which would currently tie for the 24th-richest deal in baseball history, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, with the chance to earn even more.

It would easily be the largest guaranteed deal signed under Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, who’s been with the club since October 2015, blowing past the previous high of $115 million for Robbie Ray last offseason.

The uniqueness and creativity of the deal aligns with Dipoto’s front office, especially for a pre-arbitration player, and there is some unprecedented nature in the structure given the multiple escalators and the player and team options.

Rodríguez’s base deal from 2022-29 is comparable to what the Braves agreed to with Ronald Acuña Jr., who signed an eight-year, $100 million extension in 2019 after winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in ‘18. Acuña’s deal, which doesn't include the financial security of Rodríguez's $90 million player option, has since been viewed in the industry as quite team friendly.

Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year, $340 million extension with the Padres in 2021 when he was just 22 years old, but that deal is fully guaranteed and offers the club no flexibility should injuries or other factors impact his performance. Tatis, who was recently suspended 80 games for violating the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, had missed all of 2022 before the sanction while recovering from a wrist injury he suffered in an offseason motorcycle accident.

In the context of such similar deals, the Mariners have built-in financial security with this one. Should Rodriguez’s production not pan out as expected, and he does exercise the player option, the club would be on the hook for, at worst, an average of $16.25 million from 2023-34. In the worst-case scenario, it’s not an insurmountable salary that would weigh down the Mariners' payroll in the long term. For years, Dipoto tried to get out from under the $24 million-per-year contract that Seattle’s previous regime gave Robinson Canó, whom Dipoto eventually traded in the 2018-19 offseason in the well-chronicled blockbuster that brought Seattle Jarred Kelenic and more.

And if Rodríguez performs at the level that both he and the club hope, he will -- at least alongside contracts active as of today -- become the richest player in baseball history, and the Mariners will reap the production of a superstar.

The timing is also relevant because of how far Rodríguez is from free agency. He would’ve earned the league-minimum $700,000 this year and next before reaching arbitration eligibility, where his salary would’ve been determined on a year-by-year basis, based on performance. Had the Mariners waited, each passing year would’ve also brought Rodríguez closer to the possibility of free agency. Juan Soto, who was dealt from the Nationals to the Padres at this year's Trade Deadline, was moved mostly due to his decision to turn down a 14-year, $440 million offer from Washington. Soto will become a free agent after 2024 and could go to the highest bidder.

Rodríguez’s deal is the largest guaranteed for a player with under one year of Major League service time, passing Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco, who signed an 11-year, $182 million deal in November.

All of Friday’s news -- the structure, the precedent and the timing -- is fascinating, albeit perhaps not unexpected.

Rodríguez had arguably become the face of the franchise before he even made his debut on Opening Day in April, based on his skill set as one of the top power hitters in the Minors and billing as MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect. But more so, Rodríguez resonated with Mariners fans for his charisma and flair, and the face of the future for a team that took a significant step back after the 2018 season. Rodríguez has long been a player that fans -- and the franchise -- have dreamed of since he signed as an international free agent in 2017 at age 16.

Now, he's gone mainstream well beyond prospect circles and the Pacific Northwest, having taken the baseball world by storm on a worldwide level mere months into his big league career. And he's only 21 years old.

“Julio is among the most exciting players in the game and has only scratched the surface of what’s to come,” Dipoto said in a statement. “We feel the uniqueness of this deal befits the person. His infectious personality and ability on the field are only surpassed by his character away from it. We are thrilled that generations of Mariners fans will have the privilege of watching him play in T-Mobile Park for many years to come.”

The frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Rodríguez was the lone rookie All-Star this season, and his coming-out party was an epic showing in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, where he finished second to Juan Soto but crushed 81 homers in all. Rodríguez is hitting .269/.328/.471 with 20 homers and 23 steals in 108 games while playing a vital role for a Mariners club on the cusp of ending a 20-year playoff drought.

MLB.com’s Sanchez was the first to report that a deal was in the works, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first with the structure of the money.