The night before Thanksgiving in 2016, the Mariners made a trade. After years of toying with the idea of trading then-top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, the Mariners finally pulled the trigger.
Jerry Dipoto shipped Walker and inconsistent starting shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In return, the Mariners received the reigning National League batting champion Jean Segura.
There was a fourth player involved in the deal. Yes, I know there were actually five but Zac Curtis didn’t amount to anything for the Mariners, so shut up.
As a “throw-in,” the Diamondbacks also sent a 25-year-old outfield prospect by the name of Mitch Haniger to Seattle.
Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, Haniger thrived at every level in the Minor Leagues. In 2016, Haniger slashed .341/.428/.670 to the tune of a 185 wRC+.
This success earned Haniger a cup of coffee in the MLB when Arizona called him up later that season. Despite smacking five homers in 123 plate appearances, Haniger struggled with a lowly 81 wRC+. The Diamondbacks also had a plethora of outfield talent throughout their ranks, which made Haniger the odd man out.
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While Haniger, even at that point, was never considered “trash,” he merely appeared to be an average outfielder.
In public appearances, Dipoto was quick to reaffirm that Haniger was not just a “throw-in” to the Mariners organization. To many fans’ dismay, Dipoto was placing complete faith in Haniger to be the 2017 Mariners starting right fielder.
Haniger came out of the gates as perhaps the most consistent hitter in the Mariners offense to begin 2017. Unfortunately, a strained right oblique at the end of his hot April caused him to miss significant time.
Upon his return, Haniger was nothing like what we had seen out of him before the injury. His timing was off, his K-rate went up, and, ultimately, he hit just .203 since being activated from the DL.
July 30th, 2017. Haniger went down again. Literally. A 94 mile-per-hour fastball from Jacob deGrom zipped right into the face of Haniger, leaving him huddled in the batter’s box.
To many, this pitch had seemingly ended Haniger’s season. However, he managed to only suffer a facial laceration and was sent on a rehab assignment just two weeks later in Tacoma.
By August 19th, Haniger was back with Seattle and appeared a new man. From that point to the end of the 2017 season, Haniger notched a 147 wRC+ and cemented himself as the rightful starter in right field for the Mariners in 2018.
But Haniger isn’t a very… flashy player if you will. Therefore, he almost felt like an afterthought when it came to the Mariners 2018 outlook. When Haniger was slow to start his Spring Training with a right-hand injury, it didn’t feel Earth-shattering in comparison to some of the other injuries the Mariners were faced with.
Simply put, Haniger didn’t appear to be that much of a difference-maker for this year’s ballclub. Anyone who thought that myself included was very, very wrong.
In 2018, Haniger has been a top-five hitter in Major League Baseball in almost every category. Currently seventh in fWAR, Haniger (1.5) has greatly outperformed the likes of outfield counterparts Giancarlo Stanton (0.5) and George Springer (0.6).
Haniger’s wRC+ of 186 is fourth most in the MLB, trailing only Didi Gregorius, Mookie Betts, and Manny Machado. If the Diamondbacks had never traded Haniger, he would be their leader in wRC+ by 34 points.
That has to be a pretty hard pill to swallow for the Diamondbacks front office. Not to mention, Jean Segura has also been amazing for the Mariners and could very well be on his way to an All-Star appearance. Meanwhile, Ketel Marte has been an average-to-below-average player for Arizona and Taijuan Walker has unfortunately fallen victim to Tommy John surgery.
The Mariners have been on the wrong side of many trades, so it’s nice to see one swing their way.
Speaking of swinging, did you know that Mitch Haniger is tied for the MLB lead in home runs? Probably not if you’re not a fan of the Mariners. The city of Seattle is used to its sports franchises being ignored on a national scale, so this should come as no surprise. There has been little-to-no attention brought to Haniger’s incredible month of April.
This needs to change because Haniger’s numbers are not only worth an All-Star nod, but perhaps an entrance into the AL MVP conversation. Yes, it is very early in the season to talk MVP races, but Haniger deserves to be recognized as one of the game’s top hitters. Dating back to the final months of last season, he has been that.
Not only has he been a great hitter, but Haniger has also been a competent defensive right fielder. That’s something the Mariners severely lacked before Dipoto’s arrival. His flexibility to play all three outfield positions well gives the M’s a little more comfort and ease in roster and lineup construction.
Haniger may never win a Gold Glove in his career, but he’s an intelligent outfielder who doesn’t make many mistakes. To me, that’s way more valuable than raw athleticism and highlight catches. Haniger has shown he has that ability, though.
I initially thought Haniger was overachieving. I don’t think that anymore. Mitch Haniger is an All-Star.
While Haniger may slightly regress, I don’t expect him to fall off significantly. I think it’s safe to say this kind of production is here to stay. Mitch Haniger is good. Very good. Deal with it.
Whenever All-Star voting opens, Haniger deserves your vote to start in the Midsummer Classic. It’s about time we recognize Haniger as the star he’s become. It would be a disservice not only to Haniger but to baseball fans as a whole to continue ignoring the success of our right fielder.
Yes, that’s right. He’s ours.
As a Mariners fan who has seen young, controllable talent leave to become stars in the MLB, I don’t think it’s unwarranted to say that we deserve this.
Maybe our window isn’t closing after all.