Haniger, who never wanted to leave Mariners, happy to return

Feb 27, 2024, 10:30 AM | Updated: 11:01 am

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)

After a year away, Mitch Haniger is back with the Seattle Mariners. And that’s something he’s very excited about.

Seattle Mariners Notebook: Haniger’s big return, and which M’s can hoop?

“It’s good to be back,” the veteran outfielder said Tuesday when he joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, who are broadcasting all week live from M’s spring training in Peoria, Ariz.

Haniger, 33, was traded to the Mariners ahead of the 2017 season and quickly became one of Seattle’s best players. He made the All-Star Game and finished 11th in MVP voting in 2018, which led to the Mariners keeping Haniger as a cornerstone when they began their rebuild after that season.

But Haniger’s career has been filled with injuries. He missed much of 2019 and all of 2020 due to injury, surgery and rehab. He bounced back in a big way in 2021 when he slugged 39 homers and drove in 100 runs. In 2022, though, Haniger missed 105 games due to injury.

After that season, Haniger left Seattle in free agency, with the Bay Area native signing a three-year deal with the San Francisco Giants.

Injuries again were an issue in 2023 for Haniger, who broke his arm when he was hit by a pitch and also had back and oblique issues during the season. After missing 101 games last year, Haniger was traded back to Seattle. And in his first at-bat back with the Mariners, Haniger blasted a home run Sunday in spring training action. That came after receiving a big ovation from M’s fans down in Arizona.

Watch: Mitch Haniger homers in first AB back with Seattle Mariners

“It’s cool, man. Walking to the plate, definitely heard the fans. And it’s reciprocal for me just to feel the same way,” he told Brock and Salk. “So it was trying to take that in real quick before the (pitch clock) timer went off in the batter’s box. (I was) having to get in real fast, but it was cool. … To feel the warm embrace, I feel the same way, so I’m excited to get back to Seattle and it’s good to be back in a Mariners uniform.”

Haniger told Brock and Salk he had a feeling he could be traded after the Giants signed Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee in free agency. That resulted in San Francisco having  “a plethora of corner guys,” including Haniger.

“I think if I had a great year (in 2023) and stayed healthy, I probably would have been untouchable. But I had a terrible season with a bunch of injuries,” he said. “And it’s good to be back in a Mariners uniform and I’m excited it led me back here.”

Haniger learned he was traded when a top Giants official called him.

“I said, ‘Well, where am I going?’ And he’s like, ‘You’re going to Seattle.’ And I started laughing. Yeah, I was happy. Definitely happy,” he said.

Mitch Haniger fits right back in with Seattle Mariners

Part of the reason Haniger was so happy after the trade back to Seattle? He didn’t want to leave the Mariners in the first place.

“I had a much, much better situation for my family and I financially to go to San Fran. I was hoping it would be a harder decision (because) I wanted the Mariners to be more interested, but at the time, they felt like they could build the team a different way and go get other players, and I don’t fault them for that,” Haniger said of his free agency between 2022 and 2023. “But ideally in a perfect world, I would have just signed back with the Mariners close to or at what the Giants had offered. But it was nowhere near there at that time, and it’s all good. There’s no hard feelings. And I’m just happy to be back. It’s great to be back in a Mariners uniform.”

When Haniger was with the Giants, he kept tabs on the Mariners early last season.

“I watched a lot of games early in the season when I could when we got home and the Mariners were playing, and then I had to stop because I was getting a little nostalgic and sad and I was like, man, I just kind of wanted to be back in Seattle,” he said. “But I kind of had to force myself to stop and focus on where I was at. And at the time, I’m like, ‘I’ve got two more years here in San Fran after this season, so I better get used to it.’ … It was a weird, tough change for me, and then obviously not performing well makes it even harder.”

Haniger is now one of the older, most veteran players on the Mariners at 33 years old, and he has no problem taking on a leadership role with younger players.

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“I think I’m blessed to be playing this game as long as I have, and I know I still have many good years left in me,” Haniger said. “And like I said, I’ve obviously been through a lot with the injuries and the surgeries and the rehabs, and I think just trying to share any of my knowledge or what’s worked for me with the younger guys (is important). Even with outfield or hitting stuff, I just tried to get across to these young guys that you can learn so much from the older players or from the guys around you. But at the same time, take it in, think about it, digest it, see if it works for you and if you implement it into your game, that’s great. If you can’t, if it doesn’t work for you, know yourself.

“At the end of the day, you should just know more about yourself by listening to what works for someone else and then seeing if it works for you. Either you double down on your original beliefs or you adopt some of theirs. And I feel like that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

You can hear the full Brock and Salk conversation with Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger in the podcast at this link, or in the video or audio players near the top of this post.

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