With Historic Extension, Julio Rodriguez Cements His Place As Face Of The Mariners Franchise

Image credit: (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s been clear for years that Julio Rodriguez was a star in the making.

The only surprise is how quickly the Mariners center fielder achieved that stardom.

The Mariners signed Rodriguez to an extension over the weekend that will pay him at least $210 million and could be worth as much as $470 million depending on incentives and options. The contract has a chance to be the largest in MLB history if it reaches full value, ahead of the $426.5 million contract Angels outfielder Mike Trout signed in 2019.

The deal was in the works for nearly two months, but the timing of it couldn’t have been more perfect. Rodriguez and the Mariners agreed to the deal one day after he became just the seventh player age 21 or younger to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season. The other six players to achieve the feat—Trout, Ronald Acuña Jr., Andruw Jones, Cesar Cedeño, Orlando Cepeda and Vada Pinson—combined for 37 all-star selections, 11 Silver Slugger awards and 14 top-five MVP finishes, with Trout and Acuña still active and adding to those totals.

Less than five months into his major league career, Rodriguez has asserted himself as a must-watch talent night in and night out. In an era where the game is brimming with young stars, his precocious talent and infectious personality have allowed him to shine among the brightest of all.

“I mean, what can I say? I’m just happy to be a Mariner,” Rodriguez said in his press conference announcing the extension. “I’m just happy to be a Mariner for as long as I can.”

The contract is one of the most complex in baseball history, with various options and escalators that can make the contract length eight, 13, 16 or 18 years, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first to report.

That complexity is a function of Rodriguez’s stardom.

Rodriguez is a bilingual star with a magnetic personality, the rare player whose appeal transcends all geographic or cultural boundaries. He delights crowds equally with his gargantuan home runs and high-wattage smile. There is little he has shown he can’t do on a baseball field, and amidst great expectations since he was a teenager, he has yet to falter.

For the Mariners, the decision to extend Rodriguez was obvious. No matter how complicated the deal became, it was clear keeping him in Seattle for as long as possible was in the franchise’s best interest.

“We started with something that looked very basic and came out with something that looked like hieroglyphics,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “But again, the uniqueness of trying to capture what Julio has a chance to achieve of his career and to be fair with him about what that could look like in the end was a challenge … We hope that this is a 17-year long marriage and then we decide what to do about year 18 and beyond. And we worked very hard to make pathways to be fair and equitable with Julio and what he has a chance to do in the game.”

It’s been apparent for some time Rodriguez was destined for stardom. As an 18-year-old in his first full season, he became the talk of the High-A California League in just three weeks, with scouts and opposing coaches frequently resorting to hyperbole to describe his exploits. One opposing player succinctly stated: “He’s just the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen in my life.”

While most minor leaguers were set back after losing the 2020 season to the coronavirus pandemic, Rodriguez returned in 2021 and stormed through Double-A while simultaneously leading his native Dominican Republic to the Tokyo Olympics. Facing major league veterans 10 years his senior, Rodriguez dominated qualifying and hit .417 during the Summer Games to lead the D.R. to the bronze medal, the first Olympic baseball medal in the country’s history.

As Rodriguez rampaged through opposing pitchers with decades of major league experience, Dominican Republic manager Hector Borg was declarative about just how rare and special a talent Rodriguez was.

“Write it down, that name, Julio Rodriguez,” Borg said. “Because this kid, his talent is crazy. This kid can play different.”



Now, the baseball world at large is seeing it. Rodriguez made the Mariners Opening Day roster despite playing just 46 games at Double-A and none at Triple-A. After a slow start, he caught fire and won back-to-back AL Rookie of the Month awards in May and June while carrying the Mariners to a 14-game win streak through the all-star break. During all-star weekend, he stole the show with a mesmerizing power display in the Home Run Derby, after which Mariners owner John Stanton found Rodriguez in the visitor’s clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, hugged him and told Rodriguez he was proud of him.

Entering the final stretch of the season, Rodriguez leads the Mariners in runs (65), home runs (21), stolen bases (23), total bases (202), slugging percentage (.468) and OPS (.790), putting them in position to end the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports.

“I love being here,” Rodriguez said. “I love being with everybody, and I would love to keep representing this city and bring a championship because that’s all we want here and that’s what we’re driving for. Win for the city and win for these fans.”

The Mariners remain the only franchise in baseball never to have reached a World Series. They’ve made only four playoff appearances in their first 45 years of existence, all packed into a seven-season span between 1995-2001.

Rodriguez, the Mariners No. 1 prospect three years in a row, was the primary driver of the franchise’s promise of better days ahead. Now, those days have arrived, with the Mariners currently in sole possession of the second American League wild card spot.

And this is just the start. With his contract extension, Rodriguez has a chance to be the centerpiece of the Mariners longer than any of the franchise greats before him.

Alex Rodriguez played only five full seasons in Seattle. Randy Johnson played eight. Ichiro Suzuki played 11 and Ken Griffey Jr. played 12, with additional partial seasons sprinkled in.

Rodriguez, depending on how his contract unfolds, has a chance to be a Mariner longest of all.

“We have a long-term commitment to winning and a short-term commitment to winning,” Mariners owner John Stanton said. “The signing of Julio Rodriguez to this contract is evidence of that commitment.”

There is, of course, a chance that things do not turn out as hoped or expected. Trout has played only one full season in four years due to injuries since signing his record-setting contract extension at age 27. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who, like Rodriguez, took the baseball world by storm with his precocious talent and infectious energy, has played in only 130 out of a possible 288 games since signing a 14-year, $340 million extension while displaying questionable decision-making and maturity. Tatis initially declined to have surgery on his oft-injured left shoulder last year, broke his wrist in an offseason motorcycle accident and tested positive this month for the banned substance Clostebol, resulting in an 80-game suspension. Just 18 months after Tatis’ extension was widely celebrated, it is now a source of great uncertainty.

But given everything Rodriguez has done so far, and what he’s meant to the team and the city as a whole, the Mariners decided he was worth taking that chance.

Given Rodriguez’s track record of living up to great expectations, there is every reason to believe he will validate that faith.

“They’re betting on me and I’m invested in the city of Seattle,” Rodriguez said. “I’m definitely going to put myself in the best position I can so I can keep performing for the team and the city and for everybody. I feel like that’s who I am and I feel like that’s why I’m happy to get a contract like that. It’s definitely going to keep me happy and I’m going to keep putting myself in the best position I can to keep performing on the field.”

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