Which Mariners player is most likely to have a bounce back 2021 season?
The Mariners are just about ready to kick off the 2021 season, and while plenty of eyes will be focused on the team’s youngest players, Seattle also has several veterans looking to show they can make and impact and, more importantly, stay healthy.
Three players who fit that mold are outfielder Mitch Haniger, left-handed pitcher James Paxton and catcher Tom Murphy.
Haniger and Murphy were both with the Mariners last year, but neither played in a single game in the shortened season due to injuries.
Paxton, meanwhile, rejoined the Mariners this offseason on a one-year contract after a two-year stint with the New York Yankees. He also struggled with injuries, and has been a theme throughout his career, making only five starts and throwing 20 1/3 innings in 2020 before being shut down for the year.
Of those three, who is most likely have a bounce back season in 2021? Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy, hosts Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost made their picks. Let’s take a look at what they had to say.
Jake Heaps – OF Mitch Haniger
Mariners fans haven’t seen Haniger play a meaningful game since June 2019 due to multiple injuries and surgeries, but Haniger is now fully healthy and had some flashes of his former All-Star form this spring.
Haniger, who was a 2018 American League All-Star, will once again be in right field for the Mariners and hitting at or near the top of Seattle’s lineup. Heaps is banking on the 30 year old playing like he did in 2018 after the long layoff between regular season games played.
“I’ve got a feeling that Mitch Haniger is going to come back, he’s going to be extremely healthy and he’s going to be tearing the cover off the ball,” Heaps said. “He’s going to be showing everybody why he was an All-Star at one point in time in his career.”
Heaps pointed to general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais saying that Haniger is the Mariners’ best player when healthy as part of the reason he is picking the outfielder in this exercise.
“If he can return to that form, I’m going to be very excited about what this team can be, how they’ll start off the season,” Heaps said.
And if Haniger does play well out of the gate, it creates a bit of a storyline for the Mariners going into the summer.
“(The Mariners may have to) ultimately ask that question of ‘OK, is Mitch Haniger going to be here for the long term or is he going to be a nice little trade piece at the deadline?'” Heaps said.
Stacy Rost – LHP James Paxton
While Rost’s co-host went went with someone who figures to be in the lineup each and every day, she went with Paxton, who is slated to play about once a week as the Mariners will utilize a six-man rotation for the second year in a row.
Haniger has one All-Star nod to his name, the 32-year-old Paxton has that ability even if he hasn’t received an invitation to the midsummer classic yet in his career. The issue with him has always been health, as he’s pitched 150 or more innings only twice since making his MLB debut back in 2013.
Rost remains excited to see what Paxton can do this season, especially after he dazzled in spring training action.
“I’m going to go with James Paxton because in two separate spring training outings he struck out 17 in eight innings,” she said. “… I am all on board with this being James Paxton’s bounce back year, finally getting healthy.”
Like Haniger, Rost thinks Paxton may be a trade chip when the July trade deadline rolls around.
“The interesting thing about both of these guys is you wonder whether they both have bounce back seasons and then get traded,” she said.
Listen to the full discussion at this link or in the player below starting at the 15:50 mark.
More Mariners season previews from 710Sports.com
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• M’s haul from Padres, led by Trammell and France, may speed up rebuild
• Taylor Trammell wins left field job, Mariners rotation is set
• Mariners CF Kyle Lewis’ availability for opening day in jeopardy
• Kelenic won’t make roster but focused on getting call ‘as soon as possible’
• Mitch Haniger is back in form, and he’s leading not just by example
• Unafraid to speak his mind, Kelenic makes no apologies for who he is