Wednesday, February 1 2023

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Julio Forever, or close to it.

On Friday morning, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported that the Mariners and their rookie sensation, Julio Rodríguez, had agreed to a massive contract extension that could keep the 21-year-old Dominican outfielder in Seattle until 2036. Depending on opt-outs and certain escalators, the contract could reach as high as $470 million, which would make this the single largest contract in MLB history by total value.

It’s a huge deal, a no-brainer and a monumental moment for a franchise that has spent the past 20 Octobers on vacation. With this extension, potential becomes reality, the lofty future becomes a tangible present and the Mariners secure a generational athlete for a generation to come.

Julio Rodríguez makes Rookie of the Year case

Ben Verlander discusses Julio Rodríguez making history. The Mariners sensation became the fastest player in the American League to reach the 20/20 club, surpassing Mike Trout’s record.

Julio Rodríguez has everything you’d ever want from a franchise player: immense talent, passion for the game, ambition to continue improving, indomitable joy, respect in the locker room, oodles of charisma and a beaming smile that could light up even the gloomiest Seattle sky. He is the truth, the grand ideal and a face of the sport. He’s the type of baseballer you give a blank check to, and more importantly, the type of person that, as a fan, you let yourself fall in love with.

His personality is infectious, his energy boundless, his childlike vibe unmistakably pure. Folks around the Mariners have joked that they can’t even believe he’s a real person. Mountains of talent and he’s a nice dude? Impossible! Too good to be true!

But he is real. And, now, the future is even more so.

For the Mariners, there’s definitely still some risk involved, as there is in every massive contract extension. Guaranteeing a player $210 million just 108 games into his MLB career is a roll of the dice, a gamble that what we’ve seen is a harbinger of what’s to come. But it’s a leap of faith worth taking. The alternative is too risky, too unpalatable to even consider. 

Just ask the Washington Nationals.

The Nats didn’t seriously engage Soto in extension talks until it was too late. Soto went from a promising rookie to one of the best young hitters we’d ever seen in the blink of an eye. His value appropriately skyrocketed, and that generational Dominican superstar outfielder flew above and beyond Washington’s preferred price range. Juan Soto is now on the Padres

It’s simple: When a potential “Forever Player” shows up on your doorstep, you let him in, and you don’t let him leave.

Even Fernando Tatis Jr., subluxated shoulder, motorcycle accident and PED suspension and all, is proof of this. “El Niño” signed his own titanic extension prior to the 2021 season and proved its worth immediately with a third-place MVP finish. His legacy, his popularity and his reputation have undeniably taken a huge hit after recent events, but Tatis is still a baller. Even with all that’s gone horrifically wrong for Tatis and the Padres in 2022, come 2023 and beyond, he’s still likely to play at or near an elite level. And he’ll be doing it in San Diego.

So which team would you rather be? The team that pulled the trigger on an extension and has had to sift through a mountain of stress and disappointment this season, but still has a relatively bright future? Or the team that has to watch its beloved superstar — the player fans thought would one day have a curly W logo embossed in bronze forever in upstate New York — gallivant in someone else’s laundry?

In other words: It’s better to have offered a massive extension and lost than never to have gotten agreement on an extension at all.

In all ways possible, Rodríguez’s debut campaign has been a roaring success, the inevitable coronation of a top prospect destined for superstardom. Through 108 games, he has a slash line of .269/.328/.471, good for a 132 OPS+ (32 percent better than the league average) and a 4.3 bWAR. He has smashed 20 homers and stolen 23 bases, the youngest Mariner to accomplish that since A-Rod. As the only rookie elected to the All-Star Game, Rodríguez captivated on a national stage during the Home Run Derby, losing to Juan Soto in the finals but winning the night by catapulting himself into the larger baseball consciousness

But that was only the beginning.

The contract itself is immensely complicated, but let’s dive into it for a second. Reportedly, after the 2028 season, the Mariners need to choose whether to pick up an option on Rodríguez, the size and length (eight years or 10 years) of which depends on how he finishes in MVP voting. If the Mariners decline that option, Rodríguez can then either 1) opt out of the deal and become a free agent, or 2) activate a five-year, $90 million addition that stretches until 2032.

This structure is a lesson in compromise. If Rodríguez lives up to the prophecy, he will be compensated as such, the highest-paid player in the long history of the sport. If injuries or inconsistency pop up, he has $210 million and 10 years to fall back on. 

There’s virtually no scenario in which the Mariners would decline the option and Rodríguez would test the open market. If he’s good, he’ll be in Seattle for his entire career, and if he’s not, he’ll be in Seattle for most of his career. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo here, but the upshot is that Julio should feel very comfortable purchasing a house in the Pacific Northwest.

No Mariners fan is stressed today. No Seattle baseball aficionado should be worried about where ownership’s money might go in the year 2034. Being a fan of a team in this silly league is about two things: 1) having the opportunity to care deeply about players, and 2) watching your team win games. By extending Julio, the Mariners are accomplishing both of those things.

M’s fans have heard this all before. They’ve seen stars rise and fall with no shiny silverware to speak of. Edgar, Griffey Jr., the Big Unit, Ichiro, King Félix — true icons of the sport who spent most of their years in Seattle endearing themselves to the fan base, yet never pushing the team to a World Series. Superstardom does not guarantee October glory; just ask Seattle’s division-mates down in Anaheim. 

To that goal, Rodríguez is still just a piece of the puzzle. The Mariners will need to continue building around him. This is not basketball; one man cannot carry a franchise, as much as Rodríguez will try. But it’s much, much easier to craft a roster when you know who’s hitting third and playing center field until 2036. The unknowns will sort themselves out, or they won’t, but either way, you’ll be able to swing over to T-Mobile Park and have Julio Rodríguez drop your jaw for the next 14 years. 

Hard to complain about that.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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Source: FOX Sports

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