Rodriguez’s contract is unique in its length and the way the budding rookie superstar is betting on himself

Ulises Cabrera, Julio Rodriguez’s agent, laid down the ground rules when Jerry Dipoto first approached him with the idea of ​​a long-term contract extension in early July.

The answer was a qualified yes.

“I said if we approach this with the typical lens that’s been used for everyone, then it probably won’t work,” Cabrera said.

The resulting contract, nearly two months in the making and potentially locking Rodriguez up for the next 18 years at a maximum value of $470 million, has been described by Dipoto as the most unique and complex he has ever had. never negotiated. And also the most fun.

Here are all the two parts needed to accomplish: Make sure Rodriguez, bypassing his chance to reach free agency at age 26 and possibly receive the biggest payday in history, isn’t sold short . And simultaneously, make sure the Mariners don’t find themselves at franchise-jeopardizing risk if, for some unforeseen reason, Rodriguez fails to meet the prodigious expectations the 21-year-old has built by virtue of a spectacular rookie season.

Ultimately, it was all about the Mariners betting on Rodriguez to remain the same “wonderful person” Dipoto described at Saturday’s press conference to announce the contract. And the same transcendent ballplayer who prompted Dipoto to open negotiations midway through his rookie season, knowing that any further delays would only increase the degree of difficulty.

“The longer you wait, the less likely you are to do something,” Dipoto said. “The relationship we had with Julio since he was 16 has been phenomenal. And we felt it was the right time. Because waiting a year, waiting two years, two things happen. there’s a reasonable display of disrespect, and twice you get to the years of arbitration, it’s a lot harder to get deals of that length and that importance in. Because once the player is about to to get into the system, he tends to walk away, and then the next thing you know, he’s a 26-year-old free agent.

As much as the Mariners are betting on Rodriguez, he’s betting on himself, to a large extent. Even though Rodriguez might have had a shot at setting annual salary records had he gone the traditional six-year route to free agency, J-Rod’s camp negotiated salary sweeteners that hinge on his performance during of the MVP vote. It was Rodriguez’s way of telling the Mariners that he was confident in the ascendancy of his game, and also that he would be motivated to make sure he didn’t falter.

“Initially, in the negotiations, we had nothing bet on the title of MVP,” said Dipoto. “It was Julio. Julio wanted us to know he intended to do these things. … I thought it was remarkable because he could have gone down much easier paths than having to go out to win MVP awards .

“But when you have the kind of talent he has and the kind of confidence he has in himself, you’re willing to bet on yourself, and he bet on himself. As a result, we gave him a series of apple bites based on his progression up the food chain.

Rodriguez also bet on the Mariners. It is now inextricably tied to their long-term future, possibly until 2039 if all player and/or team options are carried out. In doing so, he tacitly endorses Dipoto’s team-building plan and is also counting on the Mariners to build a competitive team around him so he doesn’t become the Seattle version of Mike Trout – a richly paid superstar burdened with a still below average ball club. .

Dipoto said the contract is intentionally structured so that in the early years the Mariners have salary flexibility to round out the roster. And in the later years, when Rodriguez’s salary begins to rise exponentially, well, that’s one example of more than one entity taking a calculated risk.

“As the escalators start to come into play, annual salaries are now a bit more ambiguous depending on what he does,” Dipoto said. “But we bet on ourselves. We are banking on our market to continue to grow and prosper with a team that we believe is thriving. And, you know, there’s never really a point where, for the kind of talent he is, we feel like it’s going to be heavy. At no time in the first 12 years of the contract was this even a remote concern.

Rodriguez’s side requested and were granted full no-trade rights.

“We’ve come to see that even with full no-trade clauses, it can end up trading players in the end,” said agent Cabrera. “But in theory, I think it wouldn’t make sense for Julio to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to be a Seattle Mariner for my entire career. And then the team says, yeah, we’re willing to do that, and then not back that up with some type of written language that comes in the form of a no-trade clause.

It was shocking to both parties when, amid negotiations, news broke that Fernando Tatis, Rodriguez’s closest comp in terms of a mega-contract at a young age (14, $430 million at 22 years) had been arrested for performance-enhancing drugs.

“These things are so delicate, any change in the wind can blow it all away,” Cabrera said. “And so yes, it was concerning. It was definitely something that could have created a different thought process and [the Mariners] just saying, ‘Hey, let’s go back, let’s just reassess where we are.’ … But I think there’s supreme confidence in who Julio is.

Indeed, when asked what prompted him to assess the potential risks and sign a deal of this magnitude, Mariners President John Stanton replied, “The person.”

Some budding superstars, notably Ronald Acuna of the Braves, signed long-term deals (8 years, $100 million in Acuna’s case) widely believed to have sold him short. Dipoto knew it wouldn’t work in this case.

“We didn’t want to be the team that gave him something that was incredibly club friendly,” Dipoto said. “And maybe just as important, we didn’t want to lose him.”

Which brings us back to the unique, complex—and playful—character of negotiations.

“You can’t expect a team to guarantee a ton of money, if they don’t have production to validate that,” Cabrera said. “And you can’t expect a 21-year-old kid, who could potentially be a free agent after 26, to just sign things and limit himself like some other guy in the industry. So if we’re going to get in in this thinking thinking it’s going to look like something that’s been done before, then the answer is probably, we might as well not waste our time.

Saturday’s press conference, to a room full of Rodriguez teammates and Mariners staff, was proof that the two months of intense negotiations were not wasted. This was a case of both parties simultaneously taking and reducing risk, which Dipoto summed up succinctly:

“He will be among the elite in his pay if he proves to be among the elite in his game on the pitch, which is what we were trying to achieve.”