Outside the Box Ideas for the Mariners to Replace Mitch Haniger
By Trevor Pedro
Let’s take a trip back in time to November 2016. Then Seattle Mariner General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, started the transformation of the roster with an initially panned win-win trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In that transaction, the Mariners sent rising prospect Ketel Marte and mid-rotation starter Tajuan Walker for shortstop Jean Segura, reliever Zac Curtis, and a stalled outfield prospect named Mitch Haniger.
Six years later, Haniger is the only remaining asset on the roster; until five days after the World Series, he becomes a free agent. Management and teammates have heralded him for his work ethic and seamless fit into the culture, but he has lost nearly two seasons to fluke injuries. Fair or unfair, the media paints a picture that puts a lot of emphasis on those missed games. That is why projections for his following contract range from a prove-it deal to a qualifying offer (estimated $19.5M) from the Mariners.
Mitch Haniger is more critical to the Mariners than any other team in the league. They know what they have with him. Fangraphs has him around a .260 average with 25 homers and 90 RBIs. But, looking past the statistics, they know his medicals, and resigning the veteran power hitter is a possibility.
But if they let him walk, there are a few options in free agency.
Replacing Mitch Haniger and his Power with Above-Average Tools
There aren’t a ton of high-upside outfield bats on the market, but one stands out, Brandon Nimmo. The former Met offers top-of-the-lineup production, above-average defense in all three spots, and a proven “control the zone” approach. He led the Mets with 71 walks. His stat line was robust at .276/.368/.435, including 159 hits, 30 doubles, seven triples, and 16 home runs, while driving in 64 runs and scoring 101.
The best thing about bringing Nimmo into the fold is his familiarity with the leadoff spot allowing skipper Scott Servais to slide superstar and top run-producer Julio Rodriguez into the middle of the order.
The Colorado Rockies are rumored to be all-in on the former University of Wyoming star, with estimates ranging from $105 to $112M over six years.
Replacing Mitch Haniger with an International Splash
The Mariners’ ties to the Far East are well-documented between Ichiro, Kaz Sasaki, and many more Nippon League stars signing with the team. Masataka Yoshida might be the next, as he has expressed a desire to try his hand at Major League Baseball. If his current team, the Orix Blue Wave, posts the 29-year-old outfielder General Manager Justin Hollander should jump at the chance.
Yoshida has elite bat-to-ball skills and checks off many boxes President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has identified as recently as this month.
"“We would like to strike out less, we’d like to walk more, we’d like to raise our batting average – there’s a variety of different statistical goals that you can look to achieve by acquiring a player who does those things well.”"
His 2022 season included a .336/.449/.559 slash line with a remarkable 82 walks and 49 strikeouts. Remember that the transition between the two leagues sometimes takes time to translate (see Ha Seong Kim). Additionally, Yoshida could be a better defender based on standard metrics, but Haniger wasn’t, either.
Replacing Mitch Haniger with Elite On-Base Percentage
A former top prospect who’s bounced between organizations over the past few years and is hitting the market in his prime (28). Andrew Benintendi bust on the scene in 2017 as a 20/20 threat. Over the years, he’s traded his power game for a “Control the Zone” approach with his bat-to-ball skills on display. Last year, he authored a .304/.373/.399 slash line.
The lack of power isn’t pretty but hear me out. Julio Rodriguez is your top run-producer and a ready-made three-hole hitter. This team’s success depends on getting people on base for the talented 21-year-old slugger, not the other way around.
The Mariners need a leadoff hitter, and preferably that player needs to play a corner outfield spot. Someone with a good idea of the strike zone takes walks and possesses above-average speed. It would be good if that player were an elite defender as well. Benintendi checks all those boxes and brings post-season experience to the roster.