MLB Insider Jon Morosi: Mitch Haniger has more value staying with Mariners than being traded
The Mariners are playing some great baseball to start the 2021 season, and now they return home for a five-game homestand with an 8-5 record and three series victories on the year.
There have been plenty of heroes for the Mariners in their eight wins this season, but the man who is currently Seattle’s best player has also been the most consistent on the team. That would be right fielder Mitch Haniger.
Haniger, 30, has played in every game so far while hitting leadoff and either manning right field or playing designated hitter. He has a .321/.333/.623 slash line with four home runs and 10 RBIs through 13 games, and he smacked a home run in each of the Mariners’ wins in Thursday’s doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles.
Haniger’s hot start is even more impressive considering serious injuries and surgeries kept him out of action for most of 2019 and all of 2020. He’s now fully healthy and is playing like the All-Star he was back in 2018, when he finished 11th in American League MVP voting.
The star outfielder is signed through the 2022 season, but since the Mariners began their rebuild after the 2018 season, Haniger’s name has been floated in trade talks. That’s due to the amount of young outfield talent the organization boasts, such as 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and top-five prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. Top-100 prospect Taylor Trammell is also in the organization and has been Seattle’s starting center fielder to start 2021.
But the Mariners appear to be trending upwards in terms of playoff contention for this season or next year and Haniger is showing he can be a key part of this club. So what does Seattle do with him?
MLB insider Jon Morosi of MLB Network joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob on Thursday to discuss Haniger’s future.
“Obviously the (outfield prospects) are coming. And at some point if you look at this in isolation, you have a veteran player who’s a year and five months from free agency at a position of strength,” Morosi said. “Could you flip him to get back something of value? Maybe to help the pitching staff a little bit? Perhaps.”
But Morosi thinks Haniger may have more value to the Mariners by staying on the roster rather than by being a trade chip.
“He is someone who I think as this young group looks to mature into a playoff team – I really believe the Mariners can be a playoff team in 2022 – (can be a key factor),” Morosi said. “… I look at this team as being playoff-ready next year. And if they are playoff-ready next year and Seager signs elsewhere, you do want to have a veteran somewhere in the mix … (Haniger) would be the oldest position player on the team next year at age 31. You have to have a veteran somewhere.”
Morosi pointed out that young players often struggle to find their footing early on, so someone like Haniger could be valuable both in the lineup but also as a leader. And even though outfield is somewhere the Mariners have a lot of talent, Morosi said the team can find a way to get Haniger and other young players playing time.
“Things typically have a way of working themselves out,” he said. “For now, I agree Haniger could be traded for some good pitching, but for now I think he’s a key guy for helping set the right tone for this club for this year and next year.”
Something that also works against the Mariners trading Haniger is timeline. Haniger is a free agent after the 2022 season, and Morosi said that players in Haniger’s situation aren’t bringing much in trade return at the moment.
“What we’re finding is players who are a year away from free agency, they don’t necessarily bring back the type of package that you’re expecting,” Morosi said. “… We’re in a spot where given the injury history (where he missed most of 2019 and all of 2020), the Mariners know his health history … and the Mariners probably trust his health better than (another team’s staff would) because he’s been through a lot, but the Mariners know him, they know what it took for him to get on the field, they understand him on and off the field. That’s kind of a long way of saying Haniger may be more valuable to the Mariners than he would be to any other team because they know him, because he can set a tone.”
And even though the Mariners and the rest of MLB are very high on Seattle’s young crop of outfielders, it’s no sure thing they all pan out and reach their full potential or even come close to it.
“It’s also not expected or likely that every one of these prospects will get up and be great continually the whole time,” Morosi said. “… His money for next year is manageable enough that they for a team that is going to be very reliant on some young players, they can afford him and he brings the edge they need.”