Julio Rodríguez is, and always will be, a Mariner.
Oh, sure, things can change over time. After all, when Robinson Canó signed a 10-year contract with the M’s in 2013, taking him through his age-40 season, everyone assumed he’d ultimately retire in Northwest Green.
But we’re in the honeymoon period right now, still reveling in Friday’s news and Saturday’s announcement that the Seattle Mariners have signed Julio to a ground-breaking extension that will last, at the very least, through 2029.
Earlier today, Zach Mason wrote a spectacular piece showing the impact that Julio’s deal will have on this region. I wanted to provide the cold, analytical breakdown of how this contract came to be, what deals served as inspiration, and how this affects the Mariners’ plans in future offseasons.
Setting the stage
All major league players have six years of club control before they are granted free agency. As you might recall, one of the sticking points in the most recent Collective Bargaining Act negotiations was around so-called “service time manipulation,” where teams wait to call up their top prospects solely to delay their ultimate free agency. Perhaps the most infamous example came in 2015, when the Chicago Cubs sent down Kris Bryant — who hit .325/.438/.661 across AA and AAA the year before, and who had a .425 average with nine dingers in spring training — to “get in a good rhythm defensively.”
By doing so, the Cubs gave themselves one extra year of team control over Bryant. The calculus is cold and undeniable; two weeks in April is easily worth one extra year of a player’s prime, even if the player is therefore eligible for an extra year of arbitration and therefore more expensive.
This was in the minds of players and owners alike as they put the finishing touches on the CBA earlier this spring. To incentivize teams to call up top prospects on Opening Day, the CBA codifies a few things:
- Players who finish first or second in Rookie of the Year voting will be awarded a full year of service time, no matter how much time they actually spent in the majors
- A pre-arbitration bonus pool was created to allocate money to those players still making the league minimum
These changes, along with granting extra draft picks to teams who call up top prospects on Opening Day, were supposed to prevent a Kris Bryant redux. And they certainly contributed to the Mariners’ decision to leave camp with Julio as their starting center fielder this year. That means that Rodríguez would hit free agency after the 2027 season, and the Mariners would be on the hook for arbitration salaries from 2025–2027. A long-term deal would only make sense for both sides if it extended beyond that 2027 horizon.
The deal in a nutshell
Our own Nick Vitalis put together an excellent flow chart for this deal; feel free to look at it or read on to figure out just how this deal breaks down.
There are essentially two deals within this contract:
First, we have a seven-year contract that goes from 2023 through 2029 (Julio’s age-22 through age-28 seasons). Per Ginny Searle’s piece for BP, Julio gets a $15.3m signing bonus this season, $4m in 2023, $10m in 2024, and $18m annually from 2025-2029, for a total of $119.3m. This deal buys out two free agent years.
The deal being backloaded is as expected, but it probably confirms the notion that Jerry Dipoto will be more active in free agency this offseason; at least, had the deal been front-loaded or more evenly distributed, it could have been a sign that the team would be more conservative with its checkbook.
Second, we have a contract that is HUGELY variable, and can last either zero, five, seven, eight, or 10 years, depending on multiple factors. After 2028 (so BEFORE the final season of the first part of the deal), the dominos start to fall:
- First up is a club option for the Mariners. Essentially, after 2028, the Mariners must decide if they want to pick up a club option that starts in 2030. The base option is eight years, $200m. In a unique wrinkle, both the dollar value and length of contract can vary depending on how Julio finishes in MVP voting. Ken Rosenthal lays it out here:
Club option minimum 8/200 if J-Rod receives no MVP votes first 8 years. Here’s how it escalates:— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 26, 2022
Top 10 MVP 2/3 times, 8/240.
Top 10 MVP 4 times, 8/260.
MVP win and top 5 one other time or top 5 three times with no win, 8/280.
Two MVPs or four top 5s without winning, 10/350.
In other words, should Julio not only play like an MVP but actually win an MVP, he’ll earn himself a shot at another $80m. Should he become the perennial MVP candidate that we all think/hope he will, the contract balloons to a top-of-market deal, more akin to a free agency contract than a team-friendly extension. (At least, until Juan Soto signs somewhere — because he could well be the first person to sign a long-term deal at a $40m+ AAV.)
It should also be noted that MVP votes are being used because, per the CBA, players cannot be incentivized based on statistical achievement. Instead, you must use either award voting or playing time-related incentives. This is also why closers might have incentives based on games finished (playing time!) as opposed to saves (statistical achievement!). Otherwise, I imagine these incentives would be a combination of MVP votes and fWAR/bWAR.
- If the Mariners decline that club option, then Julio plays through the 2029 season before getting a player option that lasts five years (2030 through 2034). The base value for that option is $90m, though per Rosenthal, it could go as high as $125m depending on All-Star selections and Silver Slugger awards. With 8 combined ASG/Silver Sluggers, the option goes to $100m, or $110m with 10 combined awards. It hits $125m with one MVP and two All-Star selections.
- If Julio declines that player option, then (per Daniel Kramer of MLB.com) there is a seven-year, $168m mutual option. This deal is so complicated that nobody mentioned this mutual option aspect until this morning! On the face of it, this option feels very unlikely to be exercised. It would require Julio thinking that this is a better deal than he could get on the open market AND the Mariners taking a risk 12 months before by declining the team option, BUT then still being willing to give Julio the third-richest deal in club history.
- If either party declines that mutual option, Julio would hit free agency heading into his age-30 season, potentially still primed for a major payday.
Phew! Take a breath.
Questions that we still have
- How, exactly, does the player option change depending on All-Star and Silver Slugger recognition?
- Was there any consideration to use the All-MLB team instead of All-Star, Silver Slugger, and/or MVP award finishes? IMO, that would be a better way of judging Julio’s total performance each season.
Contracts that served as inspiration
It’s safe to say that there are no other contracts that serve as a 1:1 match for this deal. Again, this contract could be any of:
- 7 years, $120m (base deal)
- 12 years, $210m-$245m (with player option)
- 14 years, $288m (mutual option)
- 15 years, $320m-$400m (base team option)
- 17 years, $470m (supersized team option)
Quick aside: There’s a bit of discrepancy among various reporters as to the length of the deal. That’s because some are including 2022 as part of this contract, and some are not. I’m choosing to exclude 2022, but Julio did get a $15m signing bonus as part of the deal, so perhaps that’s unfair of me. Oh well.
The first wrinkle here is the multi-year, multi-trigger option, where each side has the chance to exercise future years. The two examples I could find were Jake Arrieta and Yusei Kikuchi.
In 2018, Arrieta signed a three-year, $75m contract with the Phillies. The last season of that deal was a player option for $20m, but there’s a catch — the Phillies could void that player option (and guarantee that season) by adding two extra years at $20m annually on the back end. Interestingly enough, those extra years could balloon to $30m a pop depending on number of starts and Cy Young Award finishes.
In the end, Arrieta’s performance declined, he picked up his player option in 2020, and the contract was pretty straightforward.
Kikuchi’s contract, meanwhile, pioneered the usage of the multi-year team option with a shorter player option. When Kikuchi signed with the M’s prior to the 2019 season, he agreed to three years, $43m, plus a $13m player option. After 2021, the Mariners could void that option by adding four years, $66m to the end of the deal. At the time, here’s what John had to say about the signing:
For Seattle, it’s a creative solution that allows flexibility on both sides. If Kikuchi lives up to the expectations of some: a No. 2 starter, and one of the league’s best LHPs, Seattle will at minimum be thrilled with three strong years of production, and may feel comfortable exercising their option for the “extension” with another market-rate-approximate deal to sign Kikuchi through his age-34 season. Should Kikuchi struggle or be injured, it will be unfortunate, but a $13 million lost gamble is hardly crippling. And if it’s somewhere in the middle, or Kikuchi shows well but Seattle’s rebuild is stalling, Seattle could elect not to extend but still see Kikuchi opt out.
That last sentence ultimately proved prescient, huh! While the deal clearly didn’t work out as either side had imagined, it was structured like this for a reason. Dipoto took that deal and supersized it.
The other contract that comes to mind is Fernando Tatis Jr.’s deal, a 14-year, $340m monstrosity that guaranteed Tatis $36m annually for the final six years. Should Julio win an MVP, his club option will top out at a $35m annual salary, slightly less than Tatis but for a longer period of time.
At the press conference announcing the deal, Dipoto said that Rodríguez himself proposed the club option being dependent on MVP voting. Perhaps he was inspired by Byron Buxton’s recent extension, which has $10.5m in potential escalators in every season of his seven-year, $100m deal. Of course, that was due more to Buxton’s injury history than anything else.
Regardless of its origins, this wrinkle allows Julio to get something akin to a free agency deal — a market that takes advantage of 30 bidders, not just one — but as part of a long-term extension. And it ensures that the Mariners have a higher likelihood of paying MVP prices for....well, an MVP.
Revisiting preseason predictions
Before the year started, I projected what I thought a Julio extension might look like. As we saw with Jarred Kelenic last year, not all top prospects are superstars in the big leagues — though the jury’s still out on JK. It’s clear that Julio did well to bet on himself, but my predictions weren’t too far off if we exclude the “second deal” part of his contract.
Working off the Ronald Acuña Jr. contract (which he signed after debuting and excelling), I outlined nine years and $115m guaranteed; assuming the team option in the last year was executed, we’re looking at 10 years for $135m, compared to the 8 years for $120m that Julio will ultimately get (both deals here include 2022). I also proposed a deal based off Wander Franco’s contract, which stretches to 11 years and $160m guaranteed, compared to the 8/$120m for Julio.
Unsurprisingly, those deals fell short of where Julio landed, since Julio has nearly a full season of star MLB performance under his belt. That said, I certainly didn’t see the extra option/extension coming. Underestimate Jerry Dipoto, and his creativity, at your own peril!
While I love talking about the financial side of baseball, at the end of the day I watch the game because of the connections we make with players and with our team. I keep coming back to Zach’s piece from earlier today, and thinking about my own life, and how I imagine it unfolding in parallel with this extension. I hope to have kids one day, and it’s a beautiful thing to imagine sharing the Mariners — and specifically, sharing Julio Rodríguez — with them. I’m so excited to have nights out with friends for seven years to come (or 12 years, or 14, or 15, or 17) and watch #44 together. This is a momentous occasion not just for the Mariners, not just for Julio, but for the city of Seattle and for the various M’s fans scattered around the world. Talk about a special day.