The ever-present smile from Julio Rodriguez, the one that seems to come so easily and naturally and never forced, the one that rarely leaves his face on the baseball field, had a slightly different meaning as he sat on the dais of an interview room at T-Mobile Park with Mariners chairman John Stanton, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and his agent Ulises Cabrera.
Looking impeccable in a light blue suit and a snow-white button-down shirt and with manager Scott Servais, most of the coaching staff and several teammates in attendance, Rodriguez flashed his megawatt smile as he spoke of gratitude for the moment, the bond he’s built with teammates, the hope of success for an organization and a fan base has never experienced and the satisfaction of knowing he will be a Seattle Mariner for many years to come.
“What I can say, I’m just happy to be a Mariner,” he said in his opening statement. “I’m happy to be a Mariner as long as I can. I’m happy to you guys [looking at Stanton and Dipoto] for giving me the opportunity to change my family’s life back in 2017 when you gave me the opportunity. Since that day, I felt committed to you guys.
“It’s 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 for the rest of my career and play with a lot of these guys here, be managed by Scott, having Ty (France) as my babysitter. I genuinely mean that. I love being here. I love being with everybody. And I love to keep representing this city and bring it a championship. That’s what we all want here. And I know that’s what we’re driving for — win for the city and win for these fans.”
The Mariners officially announced during Friday night’s win over the Guardians they had signed their budding superstar to a complicated multiyear contract that could keep him through at minimum the 2029 season. On Saturday afternoon, the Mariners held a news conference to discuss a deal that could keep Rodriguez in the organization for up to 17 years and pay him $470 million if certain escalators for club options, which are based on he how he fares in the annual American League MVP voting, and player options are exercised.
“This contract we were able to arrive upon, I can’t say enough about what Ulises did in getting this done,” Dipoto said. “Just working with Julio and collaborating with us on a contract that is really unique and it was required. We needed to do something unique and hopefully ensure that Julio spends the rest of his career here in Seattle.”
The discussions first got serious in the first days of July as the Mariners were preparing for the MLB draft.
“We had just connected with Ulises and inquired about the possibilities here,” Dipoto said. “We had a couple of conversations during the first couple of days of July. And at that time, I got a phone call from Ulises and we got Julio on the line, and that’s when they let me know that he had been asked to participate in the Home Run Derby. And we supported that, and we talked it through, and I hung up the phone and I said to John, I think this just got a little more expensive.”
Rodriguez had already established himself as the face of the Mariners franchise with a magical first half of his rookie season. He shrugged off struggles at the plate in April and turned into the team’s best all-around player in May and June and the first weeks of July, being named as the Mariners’ initial selection for the American League All-Star Game.
But it was his showing at the Home Run Derby where his ebullient personality and magnetism was on display as he finished runner-up to Juan Soto. While Soto may have won The Derby, Rodriguez and the Mariners were the bigger winners. His popularity spiked nationally. He went from the Mariners’ next big star to baseball’s next big star.
But there is true baseball substance beyond the Home Run Derby hype. His teammates laud his work ethic, maturity and understanding. He puts the team’s success first and his first priority is winning.
As Servais said on Friday: “There are two things when it comes to getting your teammates respect. First of all, you’ve got to be a good player. The second is show up ready to play every day. And his preparation for a guy as young as he is, he asks the right questions, he takes advice from a number of veteran players, coaches and people that have been around him. And he comes ready to play every day. His teammates have to respect that. That checks a lot of boxes.”
On Friday when the news of the contract first leaked, Stanton ran into Rodriguez in a runway leading to the Mariners clubhouse. They stopped and had a conversation, Stanton putting his hand on Rodriguez’s massive shoulders and talking to him like his grandson. The details of the conversation weren’t shared, but Stanton was potentially investing nearly a half-billion dollars into a 21-year-old kid with the hope he will lead the organization past baseball relevance and into the elite. The dollars were about Rodriguez the baseball player. The years of commitment were about Rodriguez the person.
“To me the Seattle Mariners are about character and it’s about the kind of people that we have in the organization,” Stanton said. “To be honest, the last coaching I did was in Little League and high school. I can’t see the talent although with Julio it’s pretty obvious. I can see and I have a sense of the character of the person.”
Everything that Rodriguez has shown since signing with the Mariners as a 16-year-old out of Loma de Cabrera in the Dominican Republic has been reassurance for this financial commitment. He knows he didn’t do it alone and that he won’t do it alone in the future. Rodriguez recognizes that achievement rarely comes without help.
“My dad told me that at a young age that I should appreciate and be grateful to the people that helped you to get to where you are right now,” he said. “I feel that’s what the Mariners showed to me and that’s why I want to be here.”