Seattle Mariners: Who will fill the void left by Mitch Haniger’s injury?
By Ty Gonzalez
An already thin Mariners outfield unit lost its most valuable piece for the next 6-10 weeks yesterday, so what now?
After deciding to non-tender Domingo Santana, the Mariners were down to two veteran outfielders in Mallex Smith and Mitch Haniger. That number has now dropped to one as Haniger has undergone core surgery following a setback in his rehabilitation from, well, do I really have to say it?
Haniger is now set to miss the entirety of Spring Training and likely the first few weeks of the regular season, which means the Mariners are currently prepared to field an Opening Day outfield that consists of some variation of Smith, Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, and Braden Bishop. Smith is, as mentioned, the lone veteran of the group, with the trio of youngsters having only played a combined 57 games at the MLB level.
Whether Haniger got hurt again or not, it felt like signing one more veteran outfielder would be a beneficial route to take for the Mariners. That would allow for at least two of the three aforementioned prospects, namely Lewis, to start their 2020 season in Triple-A in order to work on a few things and continue their development in a less stressful and demanding environment.
The Mariners, however, appear to be set on all three making the club out of Spring Training and may choose to ride this thing out. At Seattle’s pre-Spring Training luncheon yesterday, both Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander hammered home their plan for the 2020 season, which is to allow their young players to play as much as possible in real MLB games. So even if they were to address the outfield through free agency, who’s to say how long the Mariners would feel the need to keep whichever free agent they could potentially go after?
That brings up the biggest question of all: which free agent outfielder, if any, is going to be willing to sign with the Mariners knowing full well that their job may not be guaranteed past the first couple weeks of the season?
There are still some rather interesting names available on the free agent market to this day; the two biggest names, of course, being Yasiel Puig and Nicholas Castellanos. But the Mariners won’t—and shouldn’t—be interested in either one, nor do they fit the quick-fix criteria Dipoto and co. may look to fill. Even signing someone along the lines of Kevin Pillar or Steven Souza may prove too challenging given the lack of commitment the Mariners can make in terms of playing time upon Haniger’s return.
The Mariners may find more success in offering a minor league contract with the opportunity to break camp with the big league team to someone like Juan Lagares or Curtis Granderson. They could aim a bit higher and go for Matt Joyce or Jarrod Dyson, who are both coming off really strong 2019 campaigns and could garner some trade value later in the season, but again, will Seattle even be able to justify a spot for them by the time Haniger returns? Probably not.
In all likelihood, the Mariners’ front office is comfortable with where it’s at. Haniger’s injury provides more of a clear path to consistent playing time for Lewis, Fraley, and Bishop, and it should be mentioned that Austin Nola, Dylan Moore, Shed Long, and Dee Gordon can all man an outfield spot every now and then as well.
In the end, don’t expect the Mariners to do anything. Haniger should be back before the end of April and the long-term plan will likely outweigh the short-term need.