Mitch Haniger Mariners

The possibility of the Seattle Mariners trading Mitch Haniger this summer is fueling a spirited debate within the team’s fan base. Some fans would prefer seeing the team sign the All-Star, a free agent after next season, to a contract extension. Others believe dealing him now is a better strategy for the organization. But does trading Haniger actually make sense for the Mariners?

I have doubts.

Fans advocating a Haniger trade may be surprised to discover he’s not as valuable as some of them perceive. That’s not a swipe at the veteran outfielder, who’s clearly the best player on the Mariners and a potential All-Star this year. But those two factors speak more to his value to Seattle than on the open market.

Please give me a chance to explain.

Personnel Matters

Without doubt, Haniger’s most marketable attributes are the fact he’s under club control through next year and a very good player. The FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) confirms he’s the most valuable Mariner. His 1.5 fWAR is seventh best among right fielders, fortieth among position players, and sixty-fifth among all players when we include pitchers.

Great news. But factors, other than current stats, are certain to shape the 30-year-old’s market value.

Let’s start with injury history.

To be fair, most of Haniger’s health issues are the product of bad luck. He’s currently dealing with a knee contusion after fouling a ball off his knee. Two years ago, a foul ball ruptured a testicle. And let’s not forget being hit in the face by a Jacob deGrom fastball in 2017.

Still, Haniger did miss all of 2020 due to multiple core and back surgeries. Furthermore, he’s played 100-plus games in a season just once since debuting in 2016. The Cal Poly product appeared in 157 contests during his 2018 All-Star campaign.

Will health-related issues compel buyers to pass on Haniger?

Probably not, assuming Haniger recovers quickly and continues performing at his current level of excellence. However, a thirty-something without a record of sustained availability isn’t as marketable as a player with similar production numbers and a reputation for being durable.

Help Wanted?

On that note, demand will play a huge role in determining Haniger’s potential value. With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that pitching has been the most sought-after commodity in recent years.

The following illustrates a positional breakdown of players dealt in May through August since 2016. The majority (61.6-percent) were pitchers. Please note transactions exchanging players for cash considerations weren’t included.

Some fans will see 91 outfielders were dealt and instantly conclude a market for Haniger’s services is inevitable. Yes, potential suitors needing corner outfield help will show interest in the 2012 first round pick. But the issue at hand is whether the price buyers deem acceptable would satisfy fan expectations or justify moving Haniger from the Mariners’ standpoint.

Probably not on both counts.

Outfielder Market Value

To see what I mean, let’s consider what sellers received for the most valuable outfielders (based on fWAR) dealt in-season since 2016. Next to each player’s name you’ll see date traded, position(s), and fWAR at the time of the deal. Unless otherwise noted, sellers received minor-leaguers and buyers added pending free agents.

Remember, Haniger currently sits at 1.5 fWAR.

Justin Upton, LF (August 31, 2017) – 4.3 fWAR

To land Upton, who had an opt-out clause after the season, the Angels shipped Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez to the Tigers. MLB Pipeline doesn’t rate Rodriguez as a top-30 prospect in Detroit’s farm system. The 27-year-old Long has since retired.

Curtis Granderson, OF (August 19, 2017) – 2.3 fWAR

The Dodgers acquired Granderson from the Mets for reliever Jacob Rhame, who appeared in 44 games with a 6.23 ERA in three seasons with New York. The right-hander is a free agent after the Padres released him in April.

Leonys Martín, CF (July 31, 2018) – 2.2 fWAR

To get Martín and minor-leaguer Kyle Dowdy, Cleveland sent Willi Castro to the Tigers. Dowdy was lost in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, while Castro finished fourth in 2020 AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Jay Bruce, RF/1B (August 9, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR

Cleveland acquired Bruce from the Mets for reliever Ryder Ryan, who was later dealt to Texas for veteran Todd Frazier.

Tommy Pham, CF (July 31, 2018) – 1.6 fWAR

This was a unique deal. Both clubs involved were fringy contenders with identical 54-53 records on the day of the trade. Moreover, Pham had three seasons of club control remaining. St. Louis shipped the then-30-year-old and international slot money to Tampa Bay for relievers Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez and outfielder Justin Williams.

Cabrera is a solid bullpen contributor for the Cardinals, while Ramirez is currently with Class-AAA Memphis. The 25-year-old Williams was getting an extended look with the Redbirds before going to the 10-day IL with a stiff neck.

J.D. Martinez, RF (July 18, 2017) – 1.6 fWAR

The Diamondbacks shipped Jose King, Sergio Alcántara, and Dawel Lugo to the Tigers for Martinez. King is pitching at High-A level and not currently included on the organization’s top-30 prospect list. Detroit parted ways with Lugo and Alcántara last winter.

Andrew McCutchen, RF (August 31, 2018) – 1.4 fWAR

To land McCutchen from the Giants, the Yankees dealt Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino. De Paula was traded a year later; Avelino was released last September.

Starling Marté, CF (August 31, 2020) – 1.3 fWAR

Acquiring Marté from Arizona cost the Marlins major-leaguer Caleb Smith, plus Humberto Mejia, and Julio Frias. It’s worth noting Marté had approximately the same amount of club control remaining as Haniger does now. Smith has been both a starter and reliever this year. Frias and Mejia rank ninth and twenty-eighth respectively in the D-Backs’ system.

Nick Castellanos. RF (July 31, 2019) – 0.8 fWAR

The Cubs added Castellano by sending Paul Richan and Alex Lange to Detroit. The 24-year-old Richan is pitching at AA and not a top-30 prospect. Lange ranks 26th best and has split time between the majors and Class-AAA Toledo. He has a 6.89 ERA in 17 MLB appearances.

Brandon Guyer, OF (August 1, 2016) – 0.8 fWAR

Cleveland acquired Guyer from the Rays by parting with Nathan Lukes and Jhonleider Salinas. The 26-year-old Lukes is with Class-AAA Durham and not a top-30 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. The team subsequently waived Salinas.

Non-Outfielder Deals

My takeaway is the return for outfielders has been relatively modest lately. Even the player with the most club control – Pham – didn’t yield noteworthy value. Let’s turn our attention to non-outfielders.

Manny Machado, SS (July 18, 2018) – 3.9 fWAR

For Machado, Baltimore received Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Dean KremerZach Pop and Breyvic Valera from the Dodgers. Kramer has 13 MLB starts and is currently assigned to Class-AAA Norfolk with Bannon and Díaz, who rank twentieth and eighth respectively in the team’s pipeline. Pop and Valera are no longer with the organization.

Zack Greinke, SP (July 31, 2019) – 3.8 fWAR

Greinke and his hefty contract went from Arizona to Houston for Seth Beer, J.B. BukauskasCorbin Martin and Josh Rojas. Beer, Bukauskas, and Martin are top-20 in the team’s farm system. Rojas is the D-Backs’ regular right fielder.

Justin Verlander, SP (August 31, 2017) – 3.1 fWAR

The Astros sent Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers to the Tigers for Verlander and minor-leaguer Juan Ramirez, who has since been released by Houston. Perez is out for the season with shoulder problems, while Cameron is currently playing with the big-league club. With veteran backstop Wilson Ramos on the IL, Rogers is sharing catcher duties with fellow rookie Eric Haase.

Marcus Stroman, SP (July 28, 2019) – 3.0 fWAR

The retooling Blue Jays traded Stroman, who had one year of club control remaining, to the Mets for Anthony Kay. The left-handed Kay has appeared in 21 MLB games posting a 5.81 ERA and currently playing for Class-AAA Buffalo.

Jonathan Lucroy, C (August 1, 2016) – 3.0 fWAR

Lucroy’s blend of above-average offense and defense, plus a year of club control remaining, made him a prized trade target. To get the All-Star along with Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress, Texas parted with Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Within two years of the trade, Milwaukee dealt all three players.

Rich Hill, SP (August 1, 2016) – 2.6 fWAR

To acquire Hill and veteran outfielder Josh Reddick, the Dodgers sent Grant Holmes, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas to Oakland. Montas has appeared in parts of five seasons for the A’s. Meanwhile, Cotton and Holmes have encountered arm-related issues. Holmes is assigned to Oakland’s Class-AAA affiliate; Cotton is no longer with the organization.

Carlos Beltrán, DH (August 1, 2016) – 2.5 fWAR

Beltrán joined the Rangers when the team sent Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate to the Yankees. Two years later, New York traded Tate in a package to get reliever Zack Britton from Baltimore. The team subsequently included Swanson in a swap with Seattle bringing James Paxton to the Bronx. Green is with Class-AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

José Quintana, SP (July 13, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR

In a rare Windy City trade, the Cubs received Quintana, who had three years of club control remaining. The White Sox received Eloy Jimenéz, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, and Matt Rose. Jimenéz, currently on the 60-day IL, finished fourth in 2019 AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Silver Slugger last season. The right-handed Cease has an impressive 3.38 ERA in 13 starts in 2021. Flete and Rose are no longer with the organization.

Edwin Encarnación, 1B/DH (June 15, 2019) – 1.6 fWAR

The Mariners dealt Encarnación to the Yankees for Juan Then, a player they previously traded to New York. In November 2017, Seattle sent the 21-year-old and J.P. Sears to the Bronx for reliever Nick Rumbelow. Prospect Insider rates Then as the Mariners’ eleventh best prospect.

Mike Clevinger, SP (August 31, 2020) – 0.0 fWAR

Clevinger is listed despite a 0.0 fWAR since his 2020 season included a COVID-19 scare and a subsequent shunning by teammates for violating quarantine. Cleveland dealt the right-hander with teammate Greg Allen and minor-leaguer Matt Waldron to San Diego for major-leaguers Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor, and Cal Quantrill, plus Owen Miller,  Gabriel Arias, and Joey Cantillo.

Hedges is part of the Tribe’s catching rotation, Naylor is the regular right fielder, and Quantrill is a middle-reliever. Arias (6), Miller (16), and Cantillo (22) are top-30 prospects in the organization.

A Third Option

Among fans wanting to keep Haniger, there’s a caveat for some. The Mariners have to extend his contract. Otherwise they’d accept trading the Californian sooner than later. But there’s another way to handle the situation, even if both sides can’t agree to terms of an a deal.

Do nothing and let Haniger walk after the 2022 season.

Some will view this suggestion a inane. It’s not. Allowing players to reach free agency is a common practice among contenders, including the best organizations in MLB. The following were pending free agents in 2019-20, who weren’t dealt by their teams.

Free Agents Allowed to Walk in 2019-20
Michael Brantley (HOU)Liam Hendriks (OAK)
Marcus Semien (OAK)Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)
Joc Pederson (LAD)Didi Gregorius (NYY)
George Springer (HOU)+J.T. Realmuto (PHI)*+
D.J. LeMahieu (NYY)*+Gerrit Cole (HOU)+
Trevor Bauer (CIN)+Marcus Stroman (NYM)*+
Stephen Strasburg (WSN)*+Zack Wheeler (NYM)+
Anthony Rendon (WSN)+Nelson Cruz (MIN)*
Justin Turner (LAD)*Marcell Ozuna (ATL)*
Yadier Molina (STL)*Charlie Morton (TBR)
Jon Lester (CHC)Dallas Keuchel (ATL)
Brett Gardner (NYY)*Yasmani Grandal (MIL)
* Re-signed with team
+ Qualifying Offer

If Mariners leadership is sincere about making a postseason push next year, shouldn’t it keep Haniger rather than trade him? That’s what winning organizations typically do.

Zero Hour Approaching

With two exceptions, there’s a huge difference between the Mariners and the sellers we’ve discussed – contention windows. The Yankees and Cardinals moved veterans expecting to contend the following year. The remaining clubs were in rebuild-mode or heading in that direction.

Since the Mariners suggest contention next year can become reality, the team is in the same category as the Yankees and Cardinals with one glaring difference. Seattle’s big-league roster is nowhere close to being postseason ready next season. Therefore, moving Haniger must help the 2022 Mariners. Otherwise, retaining the veteran is the only reasonable course of action.

One scenario making a Haniger trade a practical choice would be a multi-player deal similar to the one involving catcher Austin Nola in 2020. The Padres sent Ty FranceAndres MunozLuis Torrens and Taylor Trammell for Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla. San Diego’s aggression permitted GM Jerry Dipoto to net several potential contributors for future seasons, plus immediate help from France.

Perhaps an overeager suitor makes a similar over-the-top bid for Haniger this summer. But if that kind of offer doesn’t materialize, Dipoto should keep his star right fielder because he makes his team better. And at this point of the Mariners’ rebuild, fielding a legitimately competitive roster in 2022 is the only acceptable option.

My Oh My….

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Last Updated on June 13, 2021 by Luke Arkins

Image courtesy of John Cordes/Icon Sportswire
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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
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Blitzball

Great write up and you accurately describe the risks of trading the only piece we’ve actually seen perform at the MLB level consistently for the mariners. Let the season play out unless they do get the overspend offer you reference.