ESPN’s Passan: Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez could get paid ‘like nobody else’

Aug 24, 2022, 12:33 PM | Updated: 3:51 pm

Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the Athletics on Aug. 20. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Mariners have one of baseball’s best young superstars on the roster in Julio Rodríguez, who at just 21 years old already has an All-Star Game nod to his credit and will finish the year as one of the most valuable players in MLB.

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The young center fielder is currently set to enter free agency after the 2028 season.

As we’ve seen in recent years, teams have been willing to give young players massive contract extensions that buy out their remaining contract and tack on additional years, or “free agency years.” The Atlanta Braves, for example, have done that with a number of their young stars, such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and more recently Michael Harris.

So is a megadeal for Rodríguez something to keep a close eye on? ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan discussed that topic during his weekly visit with The Mike Salk Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

“Let me ask you this … If you’re Julio Rodríguez, what comp are you looking at?” Passan asked Salk.

For Salk, he pointed first to Tampa Bay shortstop Wander Franco Jr., who was a consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball for a few years before debuting in 2021. He signed an 11-year deal worth just under $200 million that will keep him with the Rays through 2032.

Passan thinks the deal Fernando Tatis Jr. signed with the San Diego Padres is a better comparison for Rodríguez and the Mariners. Tatis signed a 14-year deal worth $340 million.

“I think if the number doesn’t start with a two, then Julio Rodríguez shouldn’t even think about it,” Passan said. “Here’s the thing, we’re looking at a generationally excellent talent. We’re looking at a personality who is somebody around whom the franchise can build. We’re looking at a guy who, because of the age at which he ascended to the big leagues, is lined up to be a free agent as young as anyone in recent memory.”

Because of all that, Passan thinks if Rodríguez is patient “he will get paid like nobody else has in the history of the game.”

Being patient would mean that Shohei Ohtani (free agent after 2023) and Juan Soto (free agent after 2024) would have signed their next deals, and either of those two – or someone else – could earn baseball’s first-ever $500 million contract.

“And if not the $500 million threshold, then certainly butting up against it,” Passan said. “Julio Rodríguez is the type of player who could reach that, as well. So if you’re not coming with an offer that starts (in the $200 million range), or even better goes to ($300 million), I don’t think you’re gonna get much traction on that at all.”

Passan said if he were the Mariners, he would “unquestionably” try and get a deal with Rodriguez done right away. But if he were the rookie All-Star, he’d be patient.

Because of Max Scherzer signing a deal worth more than $40 million annually this past offseason with the New York Mets, Passan thinks any great player will likely now see $40 million per year as their floor, including Rodríguez.

“Let’s say we’re looking at a long-term contract here. It’s gonna be five more years before he reaches his free agency. And then if you’re him, don’t you value those free agent years at a minimum of $40 million right now?” Passan said. “It’s going to be even higher going forward. I think if he were to wait to actually reach free agency, the number would probably be closer to $50 million at that point. Yeah, it’s a lot. So if you’re the Mariners, absolutely, you do everything you can.”

Added Passan: “And I understand you may be making a quarter billion dollar bet on a kid who can barely drink legally, I understand that. But the amount of savings you may gain from that the amount of marginal value, it’s worth the risk. It really is. There’s a reason that the Padres paid Fernando Tatis Jr. $340 million.”

Passan noted that Tatis’ deal may look ill-advised right now as he’s been hurt due to multiple motorcycle accidents and was recently suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, but that his contract and the Padres’ rationale for doing so makes sense when looking at Rodríguez and the Mariners.

“My point is they they believed that (the Padres) were going to realize significant savings with that contract,” Passan said.

Listen to the full conversation from the second hour of Wednesday’s Mike Salk Show at this link or in the player below.

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