The Seattle Mariners made a big commitment to their future last week. The team announced they were signing rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez to a massive extension. The intricate deal guarantees Rodriguez at least $210 million, and could range up to a record $470 million. The extension should keep J-Rod in Seattle for at least the next decade, depending on the use of player, and club options. Re-signing Rodriguez shows huge belief in his potential, which is completely warranted. However, Rodriguez is still a rookie, and has yet to fully prove himself at this level. His Home Run Derby performance this year was very impressive, as are his All-Star numbers. Still, it is a minuscule sample size. When young players sign long extensions, they usually come after multiple seasons in the bigs. By extending him this early, Seattle risks both potential injury, and (less likely) regression in Rodriguez’s game.
Prior Mega-Deals Have Had Mixed Results
Historically, signing players to huge contracts sometimes works. Other times, not so much. Until recently, these mega-deals usually went to star players around the midpoint of their careers. For example, Derek Jeter signed a ten-year, $189 million extension with the New York Yankees prior to the 2001 season, when he had five full seasons under his belt. Needless to say, that deal paid off nicely.
On the flip side, when Albert Pujols became a free agent at the age of 31. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels. The deal was for ten years, and roughly $254 million. Although Pujols enjoyed a few 100+ RBI seasons in Anaheim, his overall production dipped sharply, especially on the batting average front. He only made one All-Star appearance with the Angels after going nearly every year with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Angels probably knew the back end of that deal likely wouldn’t pay off. But they ultimately came to regret the deal earlier than expected.
A recent deal containing more parallels to the J-Rod extension is that of Fernando Tatis Jr. With two seasons under his belt at age 22, Tatis signed a 14-year, $340 million extension with the San Diego Padres. Now, the jury is still out on that contract since there are so many years left on it. Having said that, so far it’s largely been a disaster. Tatis missed 32 games in 2021 with shoulder issues. In 2022, he won’t see any action. Wrist surgery necessitated by a motorcycle accident kept him out the first half of the year. Then, a positive PED test led to an 80-game suspension, meaning he’ll miss the rest of the season.
J-Rod Extension Could Be Premature
The Tatis deal being the closest parallel to the Julio Rodriguez extension in terms of age, and money should be somewhat worrisome. Of course, they are two separate players. Just because Tatis has had issues staying on the field doesn’t necessarily mean Rodriguez will too. At the very least, though, those issues should’ve served as a cautionary tale to other teams. Rather than immediately committing enormous sums of money to such young players, let them get at least a few years of experience first. It will give them time to come into their own, and prove they will likely deserve a big payout down the road.
The Mariners, even after seeing how other mega-deals have played out, waited as little as possible to extend Rodriguez. In fact, they extended him even quicker than the Padres did Tatis. The fact they did this with the benefit of seeing how the Tatis deal has gone so far is shocking. There is a very good chance that Rodriguez will be a star player, and his huge contract will at least partially pay off. However, there is nothing wrong with waiting a few years to see how these young stars develop their game. One would think there’s a middle ground between immediately giving them a huge payday, and losing them to free agency by waiting too long.
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