With the first and worst of what likely will be two or three hot spells of the summer behind us, the Mariners Mailbag returns refreshed and tanned for tank-top season and the upcoming All-Star break.

Does anyone have a pool or a pond I could use? Yes, the pond likely would be good for me.

As always, these are real questions submitted by the loyal sunblock users known as my Twitter followers.

I really thought I’d get at least one or two questions about Mitch Haniger and the differing opinions as to whether the Mariners should keep him or trade him. Apparently that once hotly debated topic has faded somewhat in the past few weeks as the team has played its best baseball. I blame Larry Stone’s all-too-logical column.

Perhaps some fans have accepted the fact that one of the team’s best players will be moved some time before the Major League Baseball trade deadline, which is July 30 this season.   

Or maybe some fans believe that the Mariners’ recent stretch of success, which includes winning 11 of their past 15 games to improve to 45-40 on the season, has made it impossible for general manager Jerry Dipoto to trade Haniger.

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Realistically, there are no absolutes in this situation. And Dipoto’s thinking can and will change with each passing day based on how the Mariners are playing, how Haniger is performing and the varying interest levels of teams in need of outfield help.

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And while Dipoto prefers to be aggressive and jump ahead of the perceived trade and free-agent market, this might be a situation where the Mariners take up until the last possible day to move Haniger, searching for the best return.

When they open a three-game series with the Yankees on Tuesday evening at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners will have 20 games leading into the deadline to make the decision.

“We do what we’ve always done,” Dipoto told the Chuck and Buck Show on KJR a few weeks ago. “We consider everything whether it helps us in the present or the future. And we try to make the best decision in balancing those factors. And we’ll do that again in this coming trade season. We have to be able to consider everything because frankly we don’t have a set foundation and we have to consider what will help us get to where we want to be. Sometimes that is a conventional move and sometimes it’s not a conventional move and it’s a little bit riskier. We are going to listen to just about anything discussed. When we get there, we’ll make the best decisions we can. But we haven’t determined what those are yet.”

That doesn’t sound like a man married to keeping Haniger. Of course, those comments were made when the Mariners were 33-35 and not “in contention.”

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Let’s first examine the idea of being in contention. Per the MLB standings on Monday morning, the Mariners’ 45-40 record, which is unexpected given the question marks on the roster and the number of players on the injured list, puts them in third place in the American League West. They are seven games back of the Astros, who are in first place with a 52-33 record and 3½ games behind the A’s, who have a 49-37 record.

In the all-important wild-card standings, Seattle is 3½ games out of both wild-card spots with A’s and the Rays (48-36) holding the spots. The Blue Jays (43-39) are a half-game behind Seattle with the Indians (42-39), Yankees (42-41) and Angels (42-41) lurking.

Nabbing one of those wild-card spots isn’t an impossibility with 13 games against the A’s remaining this season.

But it does feel like the Mariners have vastly overachieved to reach this point. Their 10-1 record in extra-innings games and 19-7 record in one-run games does speak to a luck factor.

Luck or not, how could Dipoto and the ownership group trade their best overall hitter and everyday right fielder for more prospects?

It certainly doesn’t speak to the promise made of changing the focus from rebuilding to winning.

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Dipoto and many other GMs often will use the mantra of being “buyers and sellers” at the deadline. But what are they buying by trading Haniger? The only way it doesn’t look awful is if they get an established MLB player – possibly a starting pitcher – in return.

It’s also fair to wonder what sort of message it sends to players like J.P. Crawford, Marco Gonzales, Ty France, Yusei Kikuchi and others who are committed to winning beyond this season. How does removing Haniger from their team help them win now or next season or beyond?

And if the Mariners are willing to move Haniger, they certainly will be willing to move reliever Kendall Graveman and others, and they have been trying to trade third baseman Kyle Seager since starting the rebuild.

Also, the logjam of outfielders in the organization doesn’t seem like such an obstacle right now. Kyle Lewis might not play again this season. We still don’t know where Jarred Kelenic is as an MLB player or whether Jake Fraley’s success is sustainable. Taylor Trammell is far from a finished product and Julio Rodriguez probably won’t arrive until midseason 2022.

You know what you are going to get with a healthy Haniger. Can we say the same about the rest of those outfielders?

From a “trade Haniger” standpoint, his value will never be higher than it is right now. He’s proven he’s healthy and productive after missing basically two seasons of games and undergoing at least three surgeries after taking a foul tip to the groin.

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He has a .252/.304/.479 slash line with 16 doubles, a triple, 18 homers, 47 RBI, 22 walks and 82 strikeouts. His performance has been with 1.4 WAR thus far this season.

Besides his potential production, his salary situation and another year of club control make him attractive. He’s making just $3 million this season and can’t make more than $6 million next season in his final year of arbitration.

If the Mariners did want to keep him, then they certainly should consider keeping him beyond next season instead of letting him walk in free agency.

But MLB sources have said the Mariners have yet to approach Haniger or his representatives about any sort of contract extension during this season, which speaks to Seattle’s intentions.

Haniger, who turns 31 in December, isn’t going to be a player you offer a six-year contract. But perhaps a three-year contract, buying out arbitration and the first two years of free agency with an option might be viable.

Because of his injuries, Haniger has yet to truly receive the compensation that seemed expected after his All-Star season of 2018. So a shorter deal with a higher salary might be attractive instead of waiting until after 2022 for free agency — so much can happen until then. Sources indicated Haniger would listen to viable extension offers, but it’s likely he won’t be “hat in hand.”

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What happens with Haniger also could be indicative of Dipoto’s job security and future employment with the team considering his contract ends after the season. If he truly wants to move Haniger for more prospects and makes the deal, it’s likely ownership has decided to bring Dipoto back to continue this rebuild. If Haniger remains despite Dipoto’s desire to move him, it might speak to ownership not wanting a GM in a lame-duck year to make a major move.

The Mariners can afford to keep Haniger around as a veteran leader for one of the youngest teams in baseball as the focus shifts to winning. Can the Mariners afford to trade him? Does the risk of prospect potential mean more than proven production?

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