A Mitch Haniger extension could be very complicated for Mariners

Dec 4, 2021, 2:06 AM
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)

The Mariners inked reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to a five-year deal earlier this week, and according to Ray, one star player for the M’s played a key role in persuading him to come to Seattle.

Mariners LHP Robbie Ray on his breakout Cy Young-winning season

The player? Outfielder Mitch Haniger, who played with Ray on the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016.

“Man, he’s passionate,” Ray said of the Mariners’ right fielder during an interview Wednesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk Show. “He was in it. He was in it last year.”

Ray said Haniger stressed how great the energy fans brought during the Mariners’ final homestand was, a stretch where sellout crowds cheered on as Seattle fought for a playoff spot. Ray added that Haniger sold him on the culture and the clubhouse, as well.

“To hear that from a guy that has gone through the rebuild process and is coming out the other end of it saying that he feels that way about the city and about the team, it just makes the decision a lot easier,” Ray said.

On Thursday, Salk revisited the topic of Haniger playing the role of recruiter in free agency.

“Any time players are preaching what you’ve got going on with your culture and is able to bring someone else in, I think that’s awesome,” he said, latter asking, “Was anyone else surprised that Haniger sold it that hard?”

There are a few reasons why that question would be asked. The first is that Haniger was one of just a few veteran players on the Mariners’ roster last season, and some reportedly took issue with the midseason trade of veteran reliever Kendall Graveman. Additionally, Haniger is close with third baseman Kyle Seager, who is not returning to Seattle and didn’t have a smooth exit from the franchise.

Another key reason? Haniger, who will turn 31 this month, is entering the final year of his contract, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be with the team beyond 2022.

Salk said that the additions the Mariners have made this offseason with Ray and All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier is “a good start to all that” in terms of Haniger’s goal of winning a World Series with the Mariners, and that Haniger playing a role in recruiting Ray leads to the question of whether an extension to keep Haniger in Seattle for years to come now appears more likely.

Maura Dooley, producer of The Mike Salk Show, said she thinks an extension is more likely based on Ray’s comments as well as what Haniger has said this offseason, which includes his Players’ Tribune article about the 2021 season and his goals for the Mariners in 2022. But she also said that she understands the feeling that it may seem like Haniger is trying to sway management to make moves he’s a fan of, because otherwise he would leave after 2022.

Dooley compared that last thought to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and what he’s reportedly been doing behind the scenes with the team over the last two offseasons.

Salk agreed with much of Dooley’s assessment.

“Mitch Haniger is going to be one of the most complicated extensions in Mariners history – from both sides of it,” he said. “Is there an element of the Russell thing? I totally get a whiff of it. I totally get what you mean. The difference is with Russ, it’s specific … But with Mitch it’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s go. I want to win. I’m not telling you who to get, I’m not telling you what we need, I’m not saying get this or I’m out of here, I’m saying we (as players) did our part, now it’s time for you (management) to do yours.’

“It’s a lot easier to get behind Haniger’s comments because they echo so closely the fan base’s than maybe it is to get behind Russ’ because it feels like Russ is trying to play GM.”

So what makes a potential Haniger-Mariners contract extension so difficult? Salk thinks the issue is more complicated with the Mariners’ side of the partnership rather than Haniger’s desire to stay in Seattle.

“Haniger’s been a very productive player, but he’s not a center fielder,” Salk said. “… He plays a corner outfield spot and the two guys that are coming, your best two prospects are both corner outfielders in Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez … So if you want to commit seven years to Mitch Haniger next year, knowing that the best position for your two best prospects is corner outfield? That’s a huge, huge complicating issue.”

Salk says that complicates things because the Mariners clearly believe, like many, that Kelenic and Rodríguez have the ability to become superstars who can lead the team for a long time. But because those two profile as corner outfielders, it muddies the future of Haniger, who is arguably the best hitter on the team, is currently the team’s best run producer and is a “heart and soul guy.”

“He’s so much of what you’re looking for,” Salk said. “But he’s not a center fielder and quite frankly he’s not even a great (defensive) outfielder anymore. But he’s a great player and a great hitter and great person and so much of what you want.”

“So do I feel like it’s closer? Maybe on Mitch’s side,” Salk later added. “But I don’t know whether (Mariners general manager/president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto) is interested in doing that or not, and that may be a complicating factor for him as well because he’s got three guys who essentially play two spots. I don’t know how you work that out long-term and how it complicates it by throwing a large deal at Mitch Haniger.”

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the player below.

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