Just as the weekly Twitter mailbag was starting to get into a midseason rhythm, this truncated, 60-game regular season enters its final week. To be honest, this weird little sprint of games without fans that featured a slew of postponements, seven-inning doubleheaders, universal designated hitter, expanded rosters, the international tiebreaker rule and a race for expanded playoffs has been more fun than expected. It makes you wish the owners weren’t so set on playing as few games as possible and an agreement could’ve reached been for 80-90 games.
We’ll never truly know how much money was lost because the owners won’t release the information. And even if they did release some financial data, those numbers would be difficult to trust.
But you can expect full transparency from the Twitter mailbag about its revenue, which isn’t enough to buy a stadium adult beverage when they are available.
With so many good questions last week, and my usual overwriting on Jarred Kelenic (or any subject), we are still answering questions from the last request for mailbag questions. As always these are real questions submitted by my taxi squad of Twitter followers.
These are three of four or five questions that were asked about the Mariners’ outfield depth and the status of Mitch Haniger.
Haniger has increased his workout intensity and is building strength and endurance in preparation for 2021 spring training. He has yet to resume baseball activities, but really there is no reason to rush that aspect. He could start baseball work in December, which is typical timing. The expectation from the Mariners is that he’ll be good to go when players report in early February.
Haniger has no effect on Taylor Trammell and his timeline to the big leagues for multiple reasons.
If Haniger is healthy, he is going to be the starting right fielder next season. He’s an established MLB player with a proven track record of success. While Trammell has upside and potential, he’s never played in a MLB game. He’s actually never played above the Double-A level. And in those 126 Double-A games, he posted a .234/.340/.349 slash line with 12 doubles, four triples, 10 homers, 43RBI, 20 stolen bases, 67 walks and 122 strikeouts. Depending on how he performs in spring training, it’s possible he returns to the Double-A level to start next season.
Haniger’s situation isn’t easy predict based on his health. His last MLB game was June 6, 2019. He fouled a fastball into his groin area, suffering a ruptured testicle that would require immediate surgery. In his efforts to return to the field for the final months of the season, he suffered a torn abductor muscle in his core area. The issue cropped up in the offseason and required surgery in January. And just days after the core surgery, Haniger’s back began to ache in seething pain. A MRI revealed a herniated disc that would require another immediate surgery. That’s a lot of surgeries in a short amount of time.
He will play next season at age 30. And the prospect of him playing 150 games is unlikely. But using the designated-hitter spot, it’s not impossible to hope for 130 games … unless they can trade him before he reaches that total.
A late bloomer in terms of breaking into the big leagues, Haniger is in his first season of arbitration eligibility in 2020, which means he has two more years of club control. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2022 season at age 32.
Since he missed most of this season, his annual salary numbers likely won’t increase much from the $3.01 million ($1.1 million prorated) he settled on this season. That’s pretty affordable if he can provide even 75 percent of the production level of his All-Star season in 2018.
The obvious strategy for general manager Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners would be to play Haniger in hopes of trading him for prospects and not be a roadblock to one of the young outfield prospects.
But how much is he blocking them?
The expected opening-day outfield will have Kyle Lewis in center field, Haniger in right field and someone not named Kelenic in left field, perhaps Philip Ervin or Jake Fraley or Jose Marmolejos.
Why not Kelenic? Because the Mariners likely won’t call him up until after the first three weeks of the season, which will guarantee another year of club control and extend his eligibility for free agency until after the 2028 season. Once you go down the service-time manipulation road, you don’t veer until you reach the goal.
Barring something unexpected, the everyday starting outfield should be Lewis, Haniger and Kelenic by June 1 at the latest.
Haniger will never have the trade value he had when the Mariners decided to start their rebuild after the 2018 season and teams such as the Braves made legitimate offers to acquire him after his All-Star season. The Mariners held firm to their high-asking price and in hindsight, it’s regrettable. Still, despite making the catastrophic mistake of not wearing a protective cup, Haniger’s injury that led to all the problems was a fluke not a failure.
But a strong start to 2021 combined with his low arbitration number and club control for 2022 would still make him attractive to teams. It’s a low-cost commitment with upside.
As for the rest of the outfielders, it would seem likely that Fraley and Braden Bishop will be in Tacoma playing every day. Ervin, if they choose to keep him, is out of minor league options, so he could serve as the fourth outfielder.
As for the rest of the outfield prospects: Trammell’s timeline to MLB is probably mid-2022. Top prospect Julio Rodriguez could start 2021 at Double-A Arkansas, which would be a big leap considering he only played 17 games at High-A Modesto and had basically a lost 2020 season, which included a fractured wrist. How Rodriguez plays in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, and his showing in spring training, will be indicative of his progress, his starting point next season and MLB timeline. But even under optimal conditions, he doesn’t project till late 2022 or early 2023.
So Haniger really isn’t blocking anyone other than Ervin, Fraley or Bishop from daily playing time.
Also to answer the secondary non-Haniger questions to those tweets:
With no chance of returning in 2020, Tom Murphy was shut down from workouts over a week ago to start his offseason and continue to let his left foot heal. There was no reason to push it any further.
Most scouts outside of the Mariners organization, and some in it, believe that Noelvi Marte will ultimately move to third base as he continues to fill out physically. A month away from his 19th birthday, Marte is a man-child, standing about 6 foot 3 and weighing about 210 pounds. He still moves well enough to play shortstop for now, and the Mariners will let him play shortstop as long as possible. And since we discussed timelines for Trammell, Rodriguez and others, Marte is at least three years away from making his MLB debut.
Does he really need to find a set position? Maybe Dylan Moore’s value is his ability to move around. I don’t know that putting him at any one position will make him significantly better defensively at that spot. And we’ve seen, at least this season, that Moore’s hitting doesn’t seem to be affected by moving around in the field.
If you are creative enough to find ways to get his bat in the lineup on a near-everyday basis without needing him to commit to a position that might be more valuable. Ben Zobrist is the best example of that role.
But I do think that Moore will compete with Shed Long Jr. for the everyday second base job in spring.
I think I would rather quit drinking. And it’s one of the few things in life I actually enjoy.