MIKE SALK

Mariners’ Mitch Haniger, Jerry Dipoto sound more like they’re on same page

Oct 22, 2021, 10:43 AM | Updated: 10:50 am
Mariners...
Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners reacts after his two-run home run against the Angels on Oct. 2. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

We all know the Mariners are at a crucial point in their rebuild.

Three years after trading Robinson Canó and beginning the process, they have succeeded in building the foundation. They are a good team. But the objective isn’t to be good; it’s to be great. So what they do next will determine how realistic a playoff run will be, and how soon we can expect it.

Dipoto addresses how M’s may find a fit in shortstop free agents

Much of the offseason will be spent considering the players they can acquire from the outside. We’ll pour over big name free agents (like the five shortstops that are expected to earn over $1 billion between them) and trade targets galore. Everything and everyone should be on the table.

But while Kyle Seager is expected to depart, the Mariners have one other veteran approaching free agency that they need to make a decision on: Mitch Haniger.

You know his story. He arrived in Jerry Dipoto’s first big deal, showing immediately why he had been a prime trade target. And as his body matured, he grew into some serious power. Everything looked to be on target for Haniger to become a serious player until a series of injuries took nearly two years of his career.

He worked hard. Maybe too hard. He dealt with the setbacks. He bounced back.

And then some.

Haniger enjoyed a tremendous 2021 season, putting those two lost years in the rearview mirror and setting career-highs with 39 home runs and 100 RBIs. He has one more year of team control before he hits free agency at age 32.

When Dipoto was asked about an extension for his right fielder a few months ago, he didn’t sound too hopeful.

“We are open to doing things like that,” Dipoto said on 710 ESPN Seattle in June. But he added “that has to be a marriage on both sides.”

Thankfully, a lot has happened since then. The team made an epic run at a playoff birth, coming together as a group behind their need to “Believe.” Haniger himself acknowledged that his own feelings evolved as the season progressed.

Haniger to Wyman and Bob: 2021 ‘the most fun playing baseball I’ve had’

“At some point in there,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune, “this season just got really, really fun.

“It was kind of like — once we acknowledged out loud what we were playing for, and what we were capable of?? We just gained more and more confidence, and more and more purpose.”

But if that was all he said, you could chalk it up to a good time that came to an end with the final pitch of the season. A special moment in time that was likely to leave with Seager, and the veteran Haniger goes out of his way to call a rallying cry for the team.

No, he also made some bold declarations about the future.

“I hope the other teams in the league are all reading this, and they understand that we’re about to get after it in the offseason. And then we’re coming for one of those playoff spots — and more.

“I hope our front office is reading this, and they understand that it’s time to really go all-in. It’s time to make some impact moves, and put this group over the top.

“And I hope our fans are all reading this. I hope you guys understand that it may be the end of the season….. but it isn’t an ending. This is a damn start.”

Heaps: Mitch Haniger’s Mariners article is worth getting fired up about

Well, that certainly sounds like a player committed to doing something special right here in Seattle.

It turns out, Dipoto agrees with the sentiment.

“I loved it,” the Mariners general manager and president of baseball operations said Thursday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jerry Dipoto Show. “I immediately sent him a text. Anything that is well thought out, that is heartfelt like that, I believe was heartfelt. That did not come in 30 seconds of reaction or emotionality. That was a well thought out, from the heart piece and I thought it was incredibly well done, and I thought Mitch gave us a little window into the way he thinks or where his mind is right now, and I thought it was refreshing. I sent him a simple text – ‘Amazing.’ I thought it was really well done and it hit the heart, and I agree with him frankly on almost everything he said.”

There’s a lot there, but the line that stands out to me is that Haniger gave Dipoto “a little window into where his mind is right now.” That tells me Dipoto learned that Haniger might be more open to a deal now than he was in the past.

So the obvious next question is, did this provide more hope?

“I’ve never not had hope that Mitch wants to be here long-term,” Dipoto explained. “I believe that he enjoys playing here, I know he loves the city, and I know he loves his teammates. This is a very close team emotionally. If I did have a sense as to whether an extension was possible, I wouldn’t air it on the radio this morning, but I have always had the belief that this is where Mitch wants to be, and if that works out and we’re able to come together on it somewhere down the road, then that would be a wonderful outcome for both of us.”

Now that feels like a positive change!

And for two reasons, I’d encourage the team to get a deal done.

First, while I’m not wild about a huge contract for a player of his age (he’ll be 31 next season) and especially with his injury history, there is something to be said for leadership, consistency and a veteran presence. And those things are going to be even more necessary as the Mariners attempt to get great.

They need a few players like Haniger to provide balance to the youth movement we are all counting on.

But even more than that, it would be a sign to players – both on the team now and potential additions – that the M’s are serious about their future. It would help undo some of the damage done by Kevin Mather at the Bellevue Rotary Club. And it would signal a commitment to competitiveness.

The Mariners don’t have the best reputation in the league. There are players that don’t believe they are willing to “go all-in” as Haniger asked of them in his column. A deal for a veteran leader like him could help change that.

And for the first time, it sounds like that might be a realistic possibility.

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Mariners’ Mitch Haniger, Jerry Dipoto sound more like they’re on same page