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What a Julio Rodríguez Extension Might Look Like

The Mariners have already been building up Julio as the face of the franchise, but should they go ahead and pay him like it?

Roughly three weeks ago, we didn’t know if there would be a baseball season in 2022. Even if the season happened, we didn’t know if über-prospect Julio Rodríguez would be on the Opening Day roster.

Fast forward…

April has just barely rolled around and Julio has already stolen the stage. This organization has built him up for years, vibin’ with him and promoting him to the fanbase more than any prospect since Junior.

But the Mariners face a dilemma: Do they keep Rodríguez on the big league roster for Opening Day, or do they keep him down in AAA for approximately three weeks (or more) in order to delay his eventual free agency by one year?

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement didn’t solve that problem, but it attempted to mitigate the issue in two ways (as our friends at Bless You Boys detailed a couple weeks ago):

For one, the top two finishers in Rookie of the Year voting in each league are automatically awarded a full year of service, regardless of how much they actually accrued that year. Secondly, teams that promote top prospects to their Opening Day rosters will be awarded draft pick compensation should that player finish in the top 3 of Rookie of the Year Voting and/or Top 5 in Cy Young/MVP Voting. The details on the exact compensation are not yet released but there will be at least some draft pick incentives to encourage teams to put forth their true best team on Opening Day.

If the Mariners want to show that they’re committed to winning now, it’s hard to make the case that Julio isn’t one of their best 28 players come April 7, especially given the incentives they receive if he excels. And at that point, if he’s making the big-league club, they might as well make sure he’s a Mariner for a long time.

Long-term extensions for players with less than one year of service time in MLB are rare, and they come with significant risk on both sides. No matter how good Rodríguez seems right now, he’s inarguably unproven, with zero plate appearances in AAA and just 206 in AA. Handing him something like $100 million guaranteed is a massive risk, as Jarred Kelenic proved last year.

A year ago, I took a turn projecting a Jarred Kelenic contract extension, also before he took a single MLB at-bat. We don’t know what the Mariners actually offered Kelenic, but I doubt their offer equaled the total guarantee of the deal I proposed: eight years, $90 million, and a pair of team options that push the max value up to $135 million. Seventy-eight percent of readers surveyed said they’d offer Kelenic that deal, and 71% thought he’d accept it.

Kelenic still has superstar potential, as shown with a 135 wRC+ in September, but the lowlights of the year included an unseemly -0.7 fWAR and a painful demotion in June. Had the Mariners guaranteed Jarred $90m in 2021, they might be regretting it just a year later — as they’re probably regretting the Evan White contract, or as the Astros regretted the Jon Singleton contract.

On the other hand, these types of deals also contain significant risk for the players involved. Within minutes of Ronald Acuña Jr. signing his eight-year, $100m contract, the baseball cognoscenti descended to decry the deal, saying that it undersold his value. And it’s true: That contract locked Acuña up for four years of free agency, making $17m a season when he could easily be worth $40m+ annually in on-field production.

(There’s a separate argument to be made, related to the Acuña deal, about the ethics of offering such a contract, especially given that they’re often signed by players from outside the U.S. For the purpose of this article, I won’t be delving into those concerns, which deserve their own in-depth examination at a later date.)

Let’s look at some comparable deals signed by players with <1 year of service time:

Wander Franco — wünderkind prospect, third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2021 despite playing just 70 games — signed an 11-year, $185m contract this winter before he was old enough to drink. Julio might not have the prospect pedigree that Franco had, with a 65 Future Value per FanGraphs compared to an 80 FV for Franco, and he doesn’t yet have the MLB success that Franco has (spring training homers don’t count!).

Heck, if we’re being real with ourselves, Julio doesn’t have the success that Acuña had when he signed his 8-year, $100m contract; Acuña was the reigning Rookie of the Year who put up a 142 wRC+ in 111 electrifying games. As detailed above, however, that contract was criticized from Acuña’s perspective, and Franco’s contract blows past it in every way.

Perhaps the best comparison is Eloy Jiménez’s deal, inked before the 2019 season. Jiménez, then 22, had never played in the big leagues and was the #3 prospect in baseball per FanGraphs. His deal guaranteed him “just” $43m, but it covered two additional free agency seasons as team options, flexing up to a total value of $75m if both options were exercised.

So below, you’ll see three different models for a JULIOOOOO extension. One is modeled after the Jiménez deal, covering just two free agency years. One is modeled after the Acuña contract, with four free agent years but even more money guaranteed. And one hews closer to the Wander Franco agreement, with an eye-popping $160m guaranteed.

Option One: Eloy-Plus Model

6 years, $55m guaranteed, with two team options. Max value: $95m plus incentives pushing to $105m (based on MVP votes).

2022: $1m + $5m signing bonus
2023: $2m
2024: $3m
2025: $9m
2026: $13m
2027: $17m
2028: $20m team option ($5m buyout)
2029: $25m team option ($5m buyout)

Poll

If you were the Mariners, would you offer Julio this contract? (6/$55m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (1222 votes)
  • 13%
    Yes, most likely
    (201 votes)
  • 5%
    No, likely not
    (86 votes)
  • 1%
    No freakin’ way
    (28 votes)
1537 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you were Julio, would you accept this contract? (6/$55m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (108 votes)
  • 19%
    Yes, most likely
    (300 votes)
  • 48%
    No, likely not
    (728 votes)
  • 24%
    No freakin’ way
    (377 votes)
1513 votes total Vote Now

Option Two: Acuña-Plus Model

9 years, $115m guaranteed, with one team option. Max value: $135m plus incentives pushing to $150m (based on MVP votes).

2022: $1m + $5m signing bonus
2023: $2m
2024: $2m
2025: $6m
2026: $10m
2027: $15m
2028: $20m
2029: $24m
2030: $25m
2031: $25m team option ($5m buyout)

Poll

If you were the Mariners, would you offer Julio this contract? (9/$115m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (746 votes)
  • 31%
    Yes, most likely
    (438 votes)
  • 11%
    No, likely not
    (154 votes)
  • 2%
    No freakin’ way
    (33 votes)
1371 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you were Julio, would you accept this contract? (9/$115m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (194 votes)
  • 48%
    Yes, most likely
    (673 votes)
  • 27%
    No, likely not
    (383 votes)
  • 9%
    No freakin’ way
    (124 votes)
1374 votes total Vote Now

Option Three: Wander Model

11 years, $160m guaranteed, with one team option. Max value: $180m plus incentives pushing to $190m (based on MVP votes).

2022: $1m + $4m signing bonus
2023: $2m
2024: $2m
2025: $6m
2026: $10m
2027: $15m
2028: $20m
2029: $20m
2030: $25m
2031: $25m
2032: $25m
2033: $25m team option ($5m buyout)

Poll

If you were the Mariners, would you offer Julio this contract? (11/$160m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (426 votes)
  • 29%
    Yes, most likely
    (384 votes)
  • 29%
    No, likely not
    (392 votes)
  • 8%
    No freakin’ way
    (112 votes)
1314 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you were Julio, would you accept this contract? (11/$160m guaranteed)

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Yes, in a heartbeat
    (687 votes)
  • 31%
    Yes, most likely
    (406 votes)
  • 11%
    No, likely not
    (148 votes)
  • 4%
    No freakin’ way
    (56 votes)
1297 votes total Vote Now

My Take

I don’t think the Mariners would be willing to shell out the guarantees associated with Option Three before Julio has something of a track record in the bigs — and I think that’s fair. They’d be giving him the third-largest contract in team history (behind Canó and Félix). But I also don’t think Julio would agree to Option Two — in my opinion, he’s got every reason to bet on himself, and the team has invested so much in him that with just one good season in 2022, he’ll be able to go back to the bargaining table this winter and argue for tens of millions more.

That leaves us with Option One. It doesn’t break the bank for the Mariners, and it doesn’t tie up Julio too long (even with the options exercised, he’d hit free agency at age 29). It cements the idea of Julio as the face of the franchise and shows the organizational commitment to the 21-year-old. If Julio hits his ceiling — or merely his projections, as Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS pegs Rodríguez for a 124 wRC+ this year — he’ll likely be giving up on some upside with this contract, but he’ll also guarantee himself generational wealth.

In the end, contract extensions for prospects are incredibly player-specific. They depend on a player’s family situation, their risk tolerance, and (to a degree) their self-confidence. It’s impossible to say if the Mariners have already approached Julio, and it’s entirely believable that if they have, he’s rebuffed all attempts. But that doesn’t mean the M’s shouldn’t try to lock this guy up long-term.

Your Turn

I’m trying something out here. If you’d like to play around with your own Julio contract extension calculator, here’s a Google Sheet that I created. The left-hand-side model allows you to put your own numbers in each cell, and will automatically calculate the years and total dollars. The right-hand-side model is more complicated; it uses the rough outline of a long-term extension and, given a total dollar amount and number of years, tries to distribute the money akin to how I distributed the money in my hypothetical contracts above.

I’ve done my best to protect ranges so you can only edit relevant cells. Feel free to make a copy on your own and tinker to your heart’s desire.

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