Seattle to Give Young Star a Contract to Match His Ambition

In spring training, Julio Rodríguez, a Seattle Mariners prospect, said he had “no doubt” that he could be an All-Star who clubs 500 home runs and ends Seattle’s 20-season playoff drought. He even thought he could eventually lead the team to its first World Series title.

On Friday, with Rodríguez in the middle of a rookie season in which he was already an All-Star, shined at the Home Run Derby and will most likely win the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award, he was finalizing a contract to match his ambition, with an expected $210 million guaranteed and the possibility of the deal reaching $470 million, which would be the largest total value contract in baseball history.

The details of the contract, which were confirmed by a person familiar with the negotiations who was not authorized to discuss it publicly, are wildly complicated. It would start with an eight-year deal for $120 million that would run from this season through 2029, at which point there would be multiple team options that would range widely in length and value depending on certain benchmarks — the most extreme of which would add 10 years and $350 million to the original deal.

Should the team decline those options, Rodríguez would have a five-year player option for $90 million. He could also leave that $90 million on the table and be a free agent at 29.

The Mariners’ faith in Rodríguez is easy to understand. After a slow start offensively, which dragged his overall numbers down, he has turned into the well-rounded offensive force that the team expected. In a span of 88 games from May 1 through Thursday, he hit .282 with a .337 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage.

Overall, he has hit 20 home runs and stolen 23 bases, making him one of only two 20-20 players this season. He has held his own defensively in center field, and despite his young age he is 19th in the majors in wins above replacement among position players. (Only two other players in the top-20 are younger than 25: Cleveland’s Andrés Giménez and San Diego’s Juan Soto.)

When Rodríguez’s deal is complete, he will be part of a trend of young players who choose to lock in enormous contracts early in their careers rather than waiting through years of team control for the possible payday of free agency. Other such deals have included the San Diego Padres’ signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million deal; the Tampa Bay Rays’ signing Wander Franco for 11 years and $182 million (with the opportunity for that deal to climb far higher) and the Atlanta Braves’ signing Ronald Acuña Jr. to an eight-year, $100 million contract in 2019 that now seems wildly undervalued.

Of course, those deals have each had some hiccups, with Tatis having recently been suspended 80 games for using performance-enhancing drugs, Franco missing large chunks of this season with injuries and Acuña missing the second half of last season, and the entirety of Atlanta’s World Series run, with a knee injury.

Rodríguez’s blend of speed and power sets him apart in the modern game, as does his over-the-top charisma.Credit…Lindsey Wasson/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

But the deals have continued regardless. Recently, Atlanta struck again, signing outfielder Michael Harris to an eight-year, $72 million deal on Aug. 16 despite his having played only 70 games in the majors at the time of the deal.

For Rodríguez and the Mariners, the deal represents a commitment to stick with a player they developed after decades of watching their stars leave. The team that drafted and developed Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodríguez saw both superstars leave in their primes but will now presumably have Julio Rodríguez, whom they originally signed as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2017, for the majority of his career, and most likely the entirety of it.

The Mariners invested heavily in their roster this past off-season, signing last year’s A.L. Cy Young Award-winner, Robbie Ray, to a $115 million contract and trading for third baseman Eugenio Suárez and outfielder Jesse Winker to complement a core of Rodríguez, first baseman Ty France, catcher Cal Raleigh and the right-hander Logan Gilbert.

Currently, that has added up to Seattle’s being 68-57 through Thursday, which had them in second place in the A.L. West and leading the Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games for the A.L.’s third wild card.

If that holds, Rodríguez will have already accomplished two of his ambitious goals: ending the playoff drought and being an All-Star. Then, he would just need a World Series ring and 480 more home runs.

James Wagner contributed reporting.

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