J-Rod's blockbuster contract with M's is fittingly unique

Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodriguez blows a bubble as he runs to the dugout while leaving the field during the second inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
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SEATTLE (AP) — Julio Rodríguez was a few minutes late for his own party, the result of dealing with Seattle traffic that will be part of his daily routine at home for likely the next decade — and potentially much longer.

When Rodríguez arrived Saturday to discuss his massive contract extension, several teammates and coaches who have embraced the 21-year-old in his debut season were seated in the back of the room.

“This is not about the contract and how long it is. I would love to be a Mariner for the rest of my career and playing for the Mariners fans,” Rodríguez said. “I’d love to be here for the rest of my career, play with a lot of these guys here and be managed by Scott (Servais), have Ty (France) as my baby sitter. I genuinely mean that. I love being here.”

Rodriguez signed the 26th contract in baseball for $200 million or more on Friday, ensuring a long-term future as a cornerstone for the Mariners. It’s a unique and complicated contract that could reach nearly $470 million and is befitting a burgeoning star with the talent and charisma to entice a region desperate for winning baseball.

It wasn’t lost on anyone in attendance that Rodriguez’s deal in Seattle almost never happened. Only a last-second effort when Rodriguez signed in July 2017 at age 16 landed him in Seattle when it seemed like the Angels were his destination.

“It feels very cool to just drive around the city and see (No.) 44 jerseys,” said Rodriguez, who hails from the Dominican Republic. “And it really touched my heart because as I said, I come from a place, Loma de Cabrera, 20,000 people, and there was more people in the stands yesterday than was in my hometown. So it feels pretty special to me.”

As much as the sides didn’t want Saturday’s event to focus on the contract, it is a unique deal. The first conversations happened in early July about whether Rodríguez would be interested in a deal that cemented his future in Seattle. The response from his representatives was that it had to be unique considering the player.

What started as a basic straightforward type contract and grew over the process of the conversations wasn’t finished until just before the official announcement on Friday night.

“We started with something that looked very basic and came out with something that looked like hieroglyphics,” Seattle president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. “But again, the uniqueness of trying to capture what Julio has a chance to achieve in his career and to be fair with him about what that could look like in the end was a challenge.”

There wasn’t back and forth. It was a collaborative evolution of the deal that Seattle’s needs, Rodríguez's potential and created different points of flexibility.

But it is complicated.

At its most straight forward, the deal is a $209.3 million, 12-year contract starting next season. It could be worth $469.6 million over 17 years if he wins two MVP awards.

The contract includes seven seasons, a five-year player option, an eight-year club option with award escalators and the possibility the option could extend to 10 years.

Keep following.

If the club option is exercised, the deal would be worth $309.3 million for 12 years. If Rodríguez earns two MVP awards by 2028 or finishes among the top five in voting four times, the deal would boost to $469.6 million, including postseason award bonuses.

If Seattle turns down a one-time team option for 2030-37 — which must be exercised after the 2028 World Series — there is a mutual option that could be exercised after the 2029 Series calling for $168 million from 2030-36. There also is a player option that guarantees $90 million from 2030-34.

Get all that?

“The very first conversation set the tone,” Rodríguez's representative, Ulises Cabrera, said describing the development of the deal. “If we are going to look at this in the typical lens, that is not going to work. And so there’s going to be points probably in this conversation that what I say won’t make sense. And what you say won’t make sense, either. But we’re going to have to just be comfortable with that because, right now, we’re kind of starting something that we don’t have any blueprint to point to.”

The contract also includes a full no-trade clause. Some of the escalators tied to the deal and MVP voting were suggestions from Rodríguez's side, and betting on his continued upswing in production.

“There were a lot of pathways that helped us lead Julio to various stops along the way, and what could we do to recognize his potential at that (point),” Dipoto said. “And what we did was we focused on a variety of different contracts that had been done around the league and we stole from parts of those, and then we created something in that space, recognizing that no one’s ever really done this before.”


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