It is another day that ends in the letter Y, so that means there are arm chair general managers on Twitter trying to insist that the Mariners act as a farm system for the rest of Major League Baseball yet again. Normally, this doesn’t really bother me that much, since I’ve been seeing people suggest the Mariners should accept Greg Bird in exchange for Emerson Hancock, Jarred Kelenic, Noelvi Marte, and Logan Gilbert since the Cano trade. This time is different though. This time I’m getting involved. This time I have a dog in the fight.
Mitch Haniger’s name is one I’ve heard tossed around as a trade candidate for the Mariners with increasing frequency the since the start of Spring Training presented by Camping World. I even acknowledged the possibility of the Mariners moving Haniger in my season preview, but didn’t elaborate much on it. But let it be known that on March 25th, 2021, at roughly 1 pm, I decided I’ve had enough of hearing about it. It feels as though I have few allies, and I’m shouting into the wind, but I press forward, undeterred. In my moment of bull headedness I’m going to talk about why I love Mitch so much, how good he has been since coming to Seattle, why I think he will return to form after losing a year to injury, and why I think trading him this year is the wrong move.
Mitch is my favorite Major League Baseball player right now. In my twitter bio I note that I’ve been in the same stadium as him multiple times. It’s not an accomplishment by any metric, as at the same time I’ve been in T-Mobile, so have anywhere from 10,000 to 45,000 other fans. But I simply do not care. I’ve been in the same building as him and that’s good enough for me. I’ve been a fan ever since Mitch was brought to Seattle. He came by way of a deal that offloaded Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker for the headline return of Jean Segura. Looking back now, it’s pretty clear few in Seattle understood what Haniger had the potential to become, fans or otherwise. Segura was the big acquisition of the deal after all, as even Jerry Dipoto acknowledged that the Mariners were most excited about adding one of the games premiere leadoff hitters. But in no time at all Mitch played his way into being the Mariners starting right fielder, and into my heart.
My love for Mitch isn’t the only reason I don’t want to see him moved yet, but it is certainly one of the largest contributors. I find the way Mitch plays baseball to be extraordinarily pleasing to watch. Good speed and a strong and accurate arm make him a threat to throw people out from the right field corner at a moment’s notice, the kind of highlight play I never get sick of. But it’s the way he swings the bat. The violent way he throws his entire body into every swing that is so joyous to me. It’s reminiscent of a toddler trying to throw every bit of his tiny little body into punching his dad’s hand. But instead of making mom and dad laugh while the toddler throws himself over unable to control his own weight yet, Mitch’s display of force is calculated and graceful. A high leg kick preludes a massive explosion of power that twists all the way up his body while his hands absolutely explode through the zone, and whenever contact is made, a quick scramble of the feet to get going down the baseline. It is some of the most chaotic poetry I can think of outside of Kanye doing slam at an open mic.
The swing would be purely aesthetic love if it wasn’t so damn effective. This leads me to my next point. Mitch Haniger is a damn good hitter. Mitch does have a pull tendency, but his line drives go all over the field, as when he gets hot he is more than capable of going to the other side and between defenders. His swing timing has always been a strength, and as a result, up the middle is Mitch’s sweet spot. His swing has had him at the top of the Mariners order since he joined, as well as proving to be a very effective leadoff hitter after Segura’s departure. In 316 games with the Mariners since 2017, Haniger has been a 10.6 WAR player while hitting .271/.381/.456 with 57 home runs and a 129 OPS+. 2018 is his peak year to this point in his career when he had a 139 OPS+ and represented the Mariners in the All-Star Game while finishing 11th in AL MVP voting. Following the 2018 season the Mariners traded the house the car and the kids but were adamant they wanted to retain two key pieces; Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger.
The Mariners organization like Mitch and were excited about the idea of building a competitor around him in the years to come, though Jerry Dipoto was careful to state that everyone on the Mariners was available for the right price, an attitude that persists in the Mariners front office to this day. But in the middle of 2019 Mitch Haniger got hurt. Badly hurt.
On June 6th of the 2019 season while he was on pace to repeat his success of 2018, Haniger swung at a pitch that came in and hit him right in the groin. The blow ruptured one of Haniger’s testicles and sent him the IL. What followed was recovery that led to a back injury that required surgeries in triplicate and a much longer road back to the field that originally anticipated. But in his recovery from the final surgery, Mitch started complimenting his basic workout with some training work with training from Austin Einhorn of Aspiros. Einhorn’s training style focuses on helping athletes to use their bodies in more effective ways to prevent future injuries. Posts on Mitch’s Instagram started showing him reincorporating baseball activities and by December there was footage of him showing off that same old violent swing while working off a tee.
Obviously, by that point it was still unclear if Mitch was going to be able to return to his 2018 All-Star form by the time the 2021 season started. Would the swing still be there? How limited would his running be? Spring Training presented by Camping World would be the first real taste of how truly healthy Mitch truly was.
To paraphrase an absolute madman, I’m thinking he’s back. What an absolute relief! Mitch is back. he’s going to be a cornerstone in the Mariners outfield again and help guide some the youth that’s coming up with the team, and he can hold right field until 2023 when Julio Rodriguez is ready to co- oh right there’s people that want to trade him this season.
It feels like I’m really in the minority on this opinion right now but I think trading Mitch Haniger this season is a bad idea. As I stated in my season preview, the Mariners are not a playoff contender in 2021, and will likely be sellers at the trade deadline. This will put Mitch Haniger into many GM crosshairs. But of the Mariners potential trade candidates, I believe that Mitch Haniger has the most potential to help the team make a playoff push in 2022.
The Mariners do have a ridiculous amount of outfield talent in the organization. Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammel, Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, and Julio Rodriguez. Throw Mitch’s name onto that list and what you’re left with is at least three, maybe four names that will be moved by the Mariners at some point in the next couple of years to make way for the outfield of the future that all Mariners fans envision, that being Kelenic, Lewis, and Rodriguez. Kyle Lewis won AL Rookie of the Year in 2020 and will start in center field on Opening Day in just a short week. Jarred Kelenic is expected by every major publication to make his Major League debut in the middle of this season. But Julio Rodriguez, as exciting as he is, and his Spring Training presented by Camping World has been, he doesn’t project to break into the league until 2023. Some people would even say that might be a little early, but those people are haters, and I don’t have time for them.
So you have an outfield envisioned for the future. What an outfield it is to! My goodness there’s so much talent. You even have room to hold onto Taylor Trammel as a fourth outfielder going forward if you want! That’s a truly impressive array of exciting young players. But you also want to break your TWO DECADE long playoff drought in 2022. Wouldn’t that be much easier if you had a strong and steady veteran in patrolling right field and clobbering balls at the top of the order?
In order to retain Haniger for his age 31 season the team would go to his third and final arbitration, and it’s certainly not like the Mariners would be unable to afford paying him. He is currently set to make $3.01 million in 2021, making him the 22nd highest paid right fielder in the league. As of writing this, the Mariners have approximately 9 dollars and 33 cents committed past 2022 (that’s real don’t look it up), and one of the revelations from the whole Kevin Mather debacle was that the Mariners did better than most teams did during the pandemic from a financial standpoint. Some of that is born of the Mariners ownership of ROOT Sports, the local broadcasting network that televises Mariners games, as well as Portland Timbers games, and that just signed a contract to be the home of the new Seattle Kraken NHL team.
So I’m proposing the Mariners extend Mitch through 2022, and afterwards you can let him go into the world as an unrestricted free agent and hopefully he gets paid the money he deserves. But what if the Mariners do move him? What is the deal that Jerry might struggle to say no to, the return that would be as beneficial, or more, to a 2022 Mariners playoff run?
Well not an outfielder, so all the arm chair GMs can go ahead and adjust their headcanon trade proposals accordingly. What I think would get Jerry’s attention is starting pitching, specifically an established middle of the order starting pitcher with at least a year of club control. The Mariners have tremendous starting pitchers in their system, but only Logan Gilbert is ready to break through to the show soon. Until then, the Mariners need an arm they could comfortably slot in behind Marco and Kikuchi and give them a quality outing every sixth day, especially given that one of the Mariners other big trade chips going into this season is James Paxton, who is almost certainly not going to finish 2021 with the team. Usually any buying team is pretty loathe to part with starting pitching depth, but Jerry has been clear for the last few years that you can have his players, but you have to pay the price.
I feel weird writing all of this because I really don’t feel like what I’m proposing is that radical. If Mitch comes back in 2021 and performs up to the standard he set in 2018, that has the potential to be an invaluable piece of a playoff push in 2022, no question. But by trading him, the Mariners open the door to numerous questions that won’t be answered so easily. This team isn’t cursed by any stretch of the imagination, but if the Mariners want their fans to get truly excited for 2022, they have to make the team as rock solid in every position as they possibly can, and trading Haniger away at the deadline leaves a huge question mark at an important position. The Mariners will spend in free agency leading up to 2022 to get the team loaded for bear, but why force yourself into bidding on outfielders when the perfect solution might already be on the team? Other teams want him so badly, but we got him! So keep him. Keep him and let him lead us to the promised land. After that, whatever happens happens.