Mitch Haniger Mariners

When discussing the contract extension of Julio Rodríguez with members of the media, including Brandon Gustafson of SeattleSports.com, Seattle Mariners chairman John Stanton stated his team’s desire to extend other players on the current roster. Will pending free agent Mitch Haniger be the next Mariner to sign a contract extension?

“We want to make commitments to a number of the players – some in the room, we’ve already done that, and there are more to come as Jerry (Dipoto) talked about.” – Mariners chairman John Stanton

It’s the burning question Mariners fans have been debating for years. But Haniger isn’t a spry 21-year-old, like Rodríguez – he’s 10 years and six days older than Seattle’s budding superstar. Many of you consider someone in their early thirties to be young, but baseball executives seem to disagree. Over the last quarter-century, the amount of plate appearances allocated to 30-and-older position players are becoming increasingly scarce.

Realistically, how age affects Haniger’s market value likely comes down to whether analytic departments across the league project the Cal Poly alum to thrive or wilt over the next few seasons. Enter the 800-pound gorilla haunting his career to date – availability.

Haniger is often maligned by a segment of Mariners fans over his injury history. But several of the 2018 All-Star’s injured list (IL) stints since joining Seattle in 2017 can be chalked up to freakish injuries. Haniger’s toughness and preparation should never be in doubt.

Mitch Haniger IL History
Date
Days
Injury
Apr 2017
46
Oblique strain
Jul 2017
20
Face Laceration / Concussion
Jun 2019
115
Ruptured testicle
2020
125
Back & abdominal surgery
Apr 2022
13
COVID-19 Protocol
Apr 2022
98
High ankle sprain
Source: Baseball Prospectus

In theory, Haniger has been assigned to the IL twice with an injury that was preventable. In April 2017, he experienced an oblique strain while swinging at a pitch. Five years later, he suffered a high ankle strain while swinging. Perhaps there were ways the six-year veteran could have mitigated those incidents. Then again, maybe not.

Still, Haniger’s most notorious injuries can only be described as bad luck. His second IL stint in 2017 was due to a facial laceration and concussion caused by a Jacob deGrom fastball striking him in the face. In 2019, a foul ball off a Justin Verlander pitch ruptured one of his testicles. Making matters worse, Haniger encountered complications from a series of offseason follow-up surgeries that cost him the 2020 season.

Having digested everything that’s happened to Haniger, I set out to find a varied assortment of thirty-somethings to compare him to. Perhaps doing so helps us identify a potential template for an extension between the 31-year-old and the Mariners. There were no ideal matches. However, I did find several interesting names to discuss.

First up, someone familiar to Seattle fans.


Michael Brantley – Astros


Signed: December 2018
Terms: Two years/$32 million
Age: 31
Pos: LF

Brantley’s record was better established with Cleveland than Haniger’s with the Mariners. However, the 2014 Silver Slugger has also endured health challenges with shoulder surgery limiting him to a combined 101 games in 2016-17. He did manage to rebound to play in 143 games and earn an All-Star selection during his walk year of 2018.

In the offseason, Brantley signed with Houston continuing his recent success and durability. Through his initial two seasons as an Astro, he slashed a combined .309/.370/.497 with a 127 OPS+. The Washington-born outfielder also put lingering availability concerns to rest appearing in 87% of his team’s regular season games and all of its 31 postseason contests.

On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average.

Once Brantley’s two-year contract expired, he tested free agency and was reportedly on the brink of signing with the Blue Jays. But the five-time All-Star returned to the Astros for the same two-year/$32 million offer that brought him to Houston in 2019. Still, things haven’t gone as swimmingly the second time around.

Lower body injuries limited Brantley to 121 games last year, although he was productive when available. The 2022 season has been even worse with shoulder problems ending the pending free agent’s year in late-June.


Josh Donaldson – Twins

Signed: January 2020
Terms: Four years/$92 million
Age: 33
Pos: 3B

This non-outfielder is included since he too has encountered availability challenges during his career. Another similarity Donaldson shares with Haniger is he didn’t reach free agency until he was north of 30. In fact, the Auburn product had completed his age-32 season before hitting the market. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 52 games with Toronto and Cleveland during his walk year. As a result, Donaldson inked a one-year “prove it” deal with the Braves.

Josh Donaldson IL History
Date
Days
Injury
Apr 2017
42
Calf Strain
Apr 2018
22
Shoulder
May 2018
104
Calf Soreness
Aug 2020
26
Lower Leg Contusion
May 2022
11
Shoulder
Source: Baseball Prospectus

Described as a “punchable face” by at least one local sports talk radio host, Donaldson delivered big for Atlanta – 37 home runs and a 126 OPS+ in 155 games. He re-entered the free agent market and found a suitor willing to make a multi-year offer to his liking – the Twins.

In his first season with Minnesota, Donaldson played in just 28 of 60 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. But he did put up an excellent 132 OPS+ when in the lineup. Last year, the 2015 AL MVP continued returned to form appearing in 135 contests.

This past offseason, Donaldson was dealt to the Yankees. But things haven’t gone well in the Bronx. The 36-year-old is experiencing his worst season since he was a rookie in 2012. Perhaps shoulder inflammation that landed him on the 10-day IL in May is still affecting his performance.


Mark Canha – Mets

Signed: November 2021
Terms: Two years/$26.5 million
Age: 32
Pos: LF

Mariners fans are familiar with another player also labeled a punchable face over Seattle’s airwaves. After seven years with Oakland, Canha hit free agency for the first time this past offseason and found a new home in Queens. Despite never being an All-Star or MVP like the players we’ve already discussed, the Cal alum managed to secure a two-year deal commitment from the Mets.

There are two elements in Canha’s background that set him apart from Brantley, Donaldson, and Haniger. Other than a hip injury costing him most of 2016, he’s been relatively healthy in the years leading up to free agency. Furthermore, the San Jose, California native possesses positional versatility with 80-plus starts at all three outfield positions and both corner infield spots.

During his first season in the Big Apple, Canha is thriving as the Mets’ regular left fielder. In 108 games, the right-handed hitter boasts a .278/.377/.418 slash-line with 10 home runs and a 128 OPS+.


Eddie Rosario – Braves

Signed: March 2022
Terms: Two years/$18 million
Age: 30
Pos: LF

Rosario’s journey to his current pact with Atlanta was somewhat circuitous. After the 2020 campaign, he was non-tendered by Minnesota and subsequently signed a one-year deal with Cleveland. Availability challenges plagued the native of Puerto Rico before the now-Guardians dealt him to Atlanta at the July 2021 MLB trade deadline. That’s where things get interesting.

At the time of the trade, Rosario was on the 10-day IL with an intercostal strain and didn’t play for the Braves until August 28. Despite this delayed debut, Minnesota’s fourth round draft pick in 2010 helped propel his new team’s late-season surge in the NL East standings. Rosario would then earn NLCS MVP honors during Atlanta’s march to victory in the 2021 World Series.

After the season, Rosario entered free agency again. However, he eventually agreed to terms on a two-year deal bringing him back to Atlanta. That said, it’s been a rough season for the eight-year veteran. Rosario missed just over two months following April surgery to correct blurred vision and swelling in his right eye. All told, the 30-year-old is hitting .190/.246/.307 with a 53 OPS+ in 57 games.


Avisaíl García – Marlins

Signed: December 2021
Terms: Four years/$53 million
Age: 30
Pos: RF

When García agreed to terms with the Marlins last offseason, he was slightly younger than Haniger will be after this season. Something Mariners fans will likely interesting is the fact their favorite right fielder has been a more productive hitter than Venezuelan.

Mitch Haniger v Avisaíl García (2017-21)
G
2B
HR
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS+
bWAR
Haniger
473
99
96
.265
.340
.486
127
14.2
García
542
91
88
.278
.335
.464
114
9.8

A comparison of the age-26 to -31 seasons of García and Haniger (2017-21), reveals García holds the edge in availability over Haniger and that’s about it. Despite his injury woes, Haniger leads in every meaningful category, including counting stats favoring performers with the most playing time. Specifically: doubles, home runs, and the Baseball Reference version of wins above replacement (bWAR).

García is experiencing a disappointing debut in Miami. The 2017 All-Star has been on the 10-day IL for most of this month with a hamstring strain. Compounding matters, he was hitting just .232/.269/.322 with seven home runs and a 67 OPS+ prior to going down.


AJ Pollock – Dodgers

Signed: January 2019
Terms: Five years/$60 million
Age: 31
Pos: OF

When Pollock signed as free agent with the Dodgers, he was a center fielder. A position generally considered more valuable than corner outfielder. Still, it’s worthwhile discussing the Notre Dame product since he shares a challenge central to the marketability of Haniger and several others on our list – health.

During his final three seasons with Arizona (2016-18), Pollock averaged just 112 games played. Injuries throwing him off track included two of the bad luck variety. A broken elbow costing the 2015 All-Star and Gold Glover most of the 2016 campaign and a broken thumb restricting him to 112 contests in his walk year.

Despite this misfortune, the Dodgers willingly made a long-term commitment to Pollock. During his first three campaigns in Los Angeles. injuries continued to plague the 17th overall draft pick of 2009. Pollock appeared in 55 of 60 games during a COVID-shortened 2020. But complications from a previous elbow surgery and hamstring issues limited him to an average of 102 games in 2019 and 2021.

In the offseason, the Dodgers traded Pollock to the White Sox. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old’s hamstring issues followed him to the Windy City. Adding to his woes, a career-worst 83 OPS+ in 106 contests with Chicago this season. As you might have expected, Pollock has evolved into a corner outfielder in recent seasons.


What To Do?

None of the players we’ve discussed is an ideal comparison for Haniger, although their contracts do suggest potential pathways to an extension deal with the Mariners. Having said that, it’s important to recognize our review also identified the potential risks of committing to thirty-somethings with an injury history.

To me, the most reasonable extension between Haniger and Seattle would be two or three years in length, similar to Brantley’s pair of deals with the Astros. The player has a chance to receive market-value compensation, while the team isn’t absorbing too much risk in the event the injury bug returns or Father Time arrives early. Perhaps an extra year with a vesting option based on availability and/or performance makes sense.

Make no bones about it. There is an inherent risk with retaining Haniger for a few more years. However, the Mariners know what he can do when healthy – this matters. Should the Californian leave, the team immediately has a pressing need in right field without an internal option ready to take over. A year ago, we may have rationalized Jarred Kelenic could fill the void – that is no longer a certainty.

Why not stick with the known quantity rather than looking elsewhere for an unfamiliar replacement?

Finally

The varied experiences of the thirty-somethings we’ve discussed demonstrate retaining Mitch Haniger is a doable do from a financial standpoint. Furthermore, Rodríguez’s unique contract extension suggests Seattle’s president of baseball operations, Jerry Dipoto, is more-than-capable of forging an innovative deal. This assumes there’s a willing partner interested in negotiating with Dipoto.

Remember, it takes two eager parties to strike a deal. Haniger may be adamant about testing free agency. It’s a right he’s earned. Realistically, this coming offseason may be his last opportunity to secure a multi-year contract. From the former first round draft pick’s perspective, free agency may be the most practical way to achieve this goal – he could be right. Everyone we’ve discussed were free agents. Maybe Mitch wants to take same route.

Perhaps the Mariners did approach Haniger about an extension and he rebuffed them. Then again, it’s plausible Seattle would rather go in a new direction and never made him a serious offer to stick around beyond 2022. Another possibility, the relationship between player and team has soured to a point where parting ways is the preferred option of both sides.

When there’s a will, there’s a way. When there’s no will, there’s no way.

Perhaps that’s where Haniger and the Mariners stand right now.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins