11:44: The exact terms of the contract are $210MM guaranteed over a 14-year term, ESPN’s Jeff Passan. tweets. That said, Passan adds that it is an extremely complex structure that includes both player options and club options. That $450MM cap will attract a lot of attention, but it’s almost unprecedented for any player to fully maximize the incentives, escalators and option demands necessary to lock in the maximum value of a long-term contract. Further illustrating that improbability, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that, including options, the contract could last as long as 20 years.
11:29 a.m. The Mariners are wrapping up a stretch with a center fielder and an AL Rookie of the Year candidate Julio Rodriguezreports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter link). It is expected to guarantee Rodriguez more than $200MM. There are options, incentives and escalators that could make the deal around $450MM over an as-yet-undetermined period of time. Rodriguez is represented by Octagon.
Rodriguez, 21, broke camp with the Mariners this season and, after a rough two weeks to start the year, exploded into instant stardom and established himself as one of the top contenders 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 attempts) – 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 hit .136/.208/.159 with a 45% strikeout rate. Dating back to April 22nd, Rodriguez was slugging at a .285/.342/.508 clip. That production is about 46% better than league average after weighting for park and league, as measured by wRC+, which puts Rodriguez 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 hit rate (49.6%) in that time, and his 14.9% barrel rate in that stretch is MLB’s ninth-best mark.
Add in the fact that he did all of this at 21 and after skipping the Triple-A level entirely, and Rodriguez’s rookie season becomes all the more remarkable. Given that youth and lack of upper minors seasoning, it’s entirely possible that even though Rodriguez is already among the best hitters in the game, we haven’t even seen the best he has to offer yet.
From a defensive standpoint, Rodriguez has more than held his own in center field this season, posting positive marks in Defensive Runs Saved (2), Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3) and Outs Above Average (5). Many scouting reports written 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-degree raw power and the solid work he’s flashed in the 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 in this contract will give Rodriguez the record for the largest contract ever signed by a player with less than a year of Major League service time. That distinction currently belongs to a Rays shortstop Wander Francowho signed an 11-year, $182MM contract last November.
Rodriguez will topple that mark easily, although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Franco wasn’t promoted until midseason and blacked out his deal in the winter, when the Rays had six full seasons of club control left over him. Since Rodriguez made the Opening Day roster, he will receive a full year of service in 2022 and would have “only” five more years of club control remaining. In that respect, Rodriguez could technically be considered more of a one-plus player (between one and two years of service time), although even when looking at the contract through that lens, it’s still a record deal; Ke’Bryan HayesA $70MM extension in Pittsburgh was the previous record for a player with between one and two years of service.
Regardless of which service bracket is thought to more aptly apply to Rodriguez, this new 14-year deal now stands as the largest contract ever promised to a player with less than two years of major league service time. In that regard, Rodriguez and the Major League Baseball Players Association are certainly happy to see the precedent for young superstar extensions go even further.
All that said, there is still potential for the contract to be quite favorable for the Mariners. Rodriguez would likely earn close to the league minimum in salary over the next two seasons (plus any payouts from the recently collectively negotiated bonus for pre-arbitration players). A player with his upside and early dominance would likely do quite well in arbitration, and while we can never know exactly how much he might have gained by that process, arbitration is generally based on precedent. Looking for recent comparisons, Mookie Betts secured $57.5MM for his three arbitration seasons. If we were to put Rodriguez in that broad vicinity, his remaining five years of club control might have netted him somewhere in the $60MM range — maybe a few million more if he took home an MVP Award and/or pushed the Betts precedent. a little more
If Betts is even a loosely accurate barometer for Rodriguez’s arbitration, the Mariners look to lock in what would have been nine free seasons at a total cost in the $150MM range. That $16.67MM annual value obviously pales in comparison to what Rodriguez could have earned on the open market had he gone year-to-year and hit the free agent market before his age-27 season, but such is the nature of early contract extensions. Obviously there is ample risk of injury or decreased performance for Rodriguez, all of which is baked into the relative discount rate for those open market seasons.
It’s also worth considering that if the contract has player options and/or opt-out clauses, as Passan suggests, Rodriguez could well press the “eject” button on the deal and enter free agency at an earlier date. The $210MM figure is the minimum he’s guaranteed if he lives out the 14-year term of this deal, but an exit in his late 20s or early 30s could change the calculation (as could some award incentives/scales). and club picks – all of which are typically traded into extensions of this nature).
From a team payroll standpoint, there is plenty of room for Seattle to make any kind of commitment. A significant part of the team’s recent rebuilding has been dedicated to clearing long-term clutter off the books – eg, the Robinson Cano business – and the team’s long-term commitments are now fairly minimal. Left handed Robbie Ray is signed through the 2026 season, as is shortstop JP Crawford, but they will combine for just $37MM at that point. That would be just Rodriguez’s fifth big league season, so the salaries in his contract probably haven’t quite escalated to their maximum levels yet.
Looking shorter-term, the books are also still accommodating. The Mariners who will see veterans Mitch Haniger and Adam Frazier to reach free agency at season’s end, had just over $63MM in guaranteed money on the 2023 payroll before this contract. That number does not include an $8MM option for a righty Chris Flexennor does it include a handful of arbitration raises: Louis Castle (earning $7.35MM this season), diego castle ($2.315MM), Paul Sewald ($1.735MM), Ty France (pre-arb) and Erik Swanson (pre-arb). That said, Rodriguez’s salary numbers will be quite low in the first few seasons of the deal, so it shouldn’t affect the team’s bottom line at all in 2023.
More to come.