Mitch Haniger ‘remarkable’ in Mariners return — will it lead to a deal?

Aug 29, 2022, 2:08 PM | Updated: 2:20 pm

Seattle Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Mitch Haniger celebrates his walk-off single in the Mariners' win over Cleveland on Aug. 26. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ offense hasn’t been setting the world on fire over the last month, but it at least has stayed afloat. And perhaps the biggest reason for that is the return of Mitch Haniger.

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A 2018 All-Star, Haniger missed all but nine of the Mariners’ first 108 games this season due to a bout with COVID-19 followed by a high-ankle sprain that put him on the shelf for months. While it was a lengthy time out, Haniger came back fully prepared and has been Seattle’s best hitter in the 20 games since his return from the injured list early this month. In his time back, he owns a .291/.356/.468 slash line for an .825 OPS with four home runs, two doubles, 13 runs, 11 RBIs and eight walks to 17 strikeouts.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen him this good. I mean, he’s been very, very good,” said Mariners insider Shannon Drayer to Mike Lefko on Seattle Sports 710 AM Monday morning. “I think we might be seeing just absolute peak Mitch Haniger right now, which has been huge. … It’s been absolutely remarkable watching what he has been able to do since he came off of the IL.”

Perhaps the biggest development with Haniger is that he’s had multiple hits that have essentially won a game for Seattle. In fact, he had two in back-to-back days in the Mariners’ recent series win over the Cleveland Guardians, hitting a three-run homer in a 3-1 victory on Thursday, then coming up with the walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of a 3-2 win the next night (he also had a nifty swim move on a slide to ensure himself a double earlier in that game).

“He won their game on Thursday, he won the game for them on Friday,” Drayer said. “Let’s go back to a couple of years ago when he first was playing well, his teammates called him ‘our captain.’ They don’t have an official captain but they called him ‘our captain’ because of the way he carried himself, because of the way he went about his business. And then because of that, when he got on the field they had that confidence in him and he comes up big in the big moments. … He’s prepared for those moments with the work he puts in, the mental side of things. That’s one of the reasons why everybody feels good when he steps up to the plate in those situations.”

Haniger didn’t rush back from his ankle injury and spent a good amount of time on a rehab assignment in the minors, and Drayer believes he learned lessons from previous injuries and that his patience this time paid off.

“I do think that he knew enough and he had had so many injury situations behind him, and it was kind of a knock on him in that he would push too hard and get hurt again or not come back 100%,” she said. “So he himself was being very cognizant of that as he went through it, but it wasn’t going to be a situation where he was gonna get a handful at-bats and be ready. … He wanted to hit the ground running, he wanted to be able to contribute like that.

“… I don’t think you could have asked for anything more from him than to be Mitch Haniger when you come back. Well, he is Mitch Haniger, and… he seems to have almost leveled up a little bit. Kind of exactly what I think everybody was probably dreaming they would see if Mitch Haniger was in a playoff chase, that’s what he is. He’s still the guy and it has been incredible to watch.”

Now comes the big question: Will Haniger, who is set to be a free agent after the season, agree to a new contract with the Mariners and stay with the team in 2023?

Drayer thinks a contract extension with Haniger before he hits free agency is out of the question at this point, but that doesn’t mean Seattle won’t end up being the best spot for him next year.

“He’s two months from free agency, and there aren’t a lot of players, regardless of situation, that are not going to take that carrot at this point,” Drayer said. “I do think maybe there is a way (for the Mariners) just as a courtesy and a show of respect – ‘Hey, you’re not really interested in doing anything right now. We’re interested but you’re in season, we understand that,’ maybe just to let him know that, of course, ‘This is something that we would want to do.’ But I cannot imagine that there would be any kind of talks or anything like that. And honestly, again, two months away from free agency, I can’t imagine that he would (say), ‘Yeah, let’s stop everything and do this right now.’ You know, players like to get to that mark.

“As it turns out, this might be the best place for him, so maybe that is something that he entertains after the end of the season, but I think time for (an extension) has way passed. But there is another thing to consider… They could put the qualifying offer on him. And if they do that, then Mitch could pick up the qualifying offer, which will probably be around one year, $18 million, or he could still test free agency. It will be something that will come into both sides’ equations, and I think that that would probably be the next step that obviously would happen after the season.”

You can listen to the full conversation between Drayer and Lefko in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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