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On Trading Mitch Haniger...

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It’s not a easy as it sounds

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Trading Mitch Haniger may be one of the most complicated tasks Jerry Dipoto could have this off-season, should he choose to go that route.

Last off-season, it was far more straightforward. Haniger was coming off a breakout campaign in which he slashed .285/.366/.493. He smoked 26 home runs, drove in nearly 100 RBIs, and posted a bWAR of 6.1. MLB.com ranked him as one of the four best right fielders in all of baseball. It was Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge and Haniger. He was, for all intents and purposes, blossoming into a star.

I’ve long speculated on what a return might look like for Haniger.

Last off-season Haniger had four years of control ahead of him. Those four years were/are likely to cost his employer roughly $25 million over the course of arbitration. A return for Haniger would likely have looked simlar to what the Chicago White Sox received for Adam Eaton in December of 2016.

Eaton, coming off a .284/.362/.428 campaign where he also posted a 6.1 bWAR, netted Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. The trio represented the Nos. 1 (Giolito), 3 (Lopez) and 6 (Dunning) prospects in the Nationals’ system. Giolito was the prize of the deal, beings he was the no. 3 overall prospect in all of baseball. Not to be short-changed, Lopez was the no. 38 prospect in all of baseball. Dunning fell just shy of cracking the Top 100.

Eaton, similarly, has made $28 million in his four season with the Nationals.

It was, by all accounts, a haul and a half.

Last off-season, the Braves and White Sox made the most sense as a trade partners, and while the returns may seem steep, there’s a precedent for these types of deals. Haniger was worth two Top 100 prospects. (Keep in mind, some of the names in these deals ascended to new heights in 2019. Preseason, they weren’t rated quite so high.)

Fast-forward nine months to last summer’s trade deadline and the market for Haniger was obviously far lighter, mostly due to his lingering injuries. Still, a construct could be made. The price tag had dropped marginally, but Dipoto was never going to move Haniger for pennies on the dollar.

It’s important to note what Haniger still is.

In 63 games last season, Haniger struggled to get on base. He finished the year with a .220 batting average, and his 28.6 K% was alarming. But even with those warts, Haniger was on pace to post another 4.0 bWAR season. It’s not a stretch to say he was going to break out of his funk and outpace that bWAR.

For that reason, it’s important not to short-sell Haniger’s value. He’s an enormous impact bat and should still be marketed as such. He only has three years of controllability remaining, but that’s a long time in baseball.

A return for Haniger should still include a premier Top 100 prospect with additional pieces to balance the deal. Several teams make sense this offseason, most of which have the ammo to make a deal happen.

San Diego Padres

The Padres have been adding pieces to their farm system and building up the organization for five years now. At some point, General Manager A.J. Preller needs to put his cards down and go for it. A farm system can only take you so far. You need to leverage those pieces to compete. The Friers also possess the second best farm system in all of baseball and could pretty easily throw together a package to entice Dipoto.

Scouts I’ve talked to are adamant no. 4 overall prospect Mackenzie Gore is untouchable. No. 30 overall prospect Luis Patino would be a good starting point. He’s a power right-handed pitcher that may be ready to debut before the end of 2020. Additional pieces such as third basemen Ty France or Hudson Potts, or starting pitchers Michael Baez or Ronald Bolanos could help shape a deal.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are clearly in win-now mode, but it remains to be seen whether they’d move the pieces necessary to complete a deal for Haniger. Their outfield already consists of guys like Ronald Acuña Jr and Ender Inciarte. Converted IF Austin Riley and veteran Nick Markakis represent their other options, so there’s a certainly room for improvement.

The problem is, blue chippers Christian Pache and Drew Waters are both coming off big minor league campaigns and may be ready to contribute this season.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say Atlanta is looking for something proven like Haniger.

RHP Ian Anderson or RHP Kyle Wright would headline the deal. Both are top 40 prospects, no. 31 and no. 35 respectively. Behind those two, Atlanta has plenty of arms they could supplement into the deal to complete the transaction.

Chicago White Sox

Like the Padres, Chicago has been building the farm for the better part of four years. It’s time for the team to spend and go for it. No. 17 overall prospect Michael Kopech is probably untouchable in this deal.

The aforementioned Dane Dunning isn’t a Top 100 guy after suffering an elbow injury in 2019, but he’s close. The addition of SP Jonathan Stiever and former first round third baseman Jake Burger could probably get a deal done.

Cincinnati Reds

Since pushing their chips onto the table this season, acquiring Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer, the Reds are clearly tired of being mired in obscurity. The team has a lot left to be desired in the outfield. Aristides Aquino came on like a bat out of hell this season, but nothing from his track record suggests he will be able to keep his torrid home run pace in 2020. Centerfielder Nick Senzel can’t seem to stay healthy enough to prove his worth.

The construct of this deal would be similar to July. A package of third baseman Jonathan India, no. 93 overall, and RHP Tony Santillan would get a conversation going and a couple supplemental pieces on either side could balance the scales.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians are publicly looking to cut payroll and Haniger would be a good way to do it. Their current outfield trio consists of Franmail Reyes, Oscar Marcado and Jordan Luplow. There’s room for improvement there. Even better, the Indians farm system lines up well with what Seattle would covet.

A deal headlined by prospect Nolan Jones would be incredibly enticing. Jones, the #37 overall prospect in baseball, is probably a year away from his big league debut.

If Cleveland weren’t interested in moving Jones, and package of arms like Triston McKenzie and Ethan Hankins or Daniel Espino would suffice just fine.

Detroit Tigers

Admittedly, the Detroit Tigers probably aren’t ready to pull the trigger here. But it’s hard not to include the idea of Detroit matching up with Seattle in a deal. Detroit is actively shopping starting pitcher Matt Boyd and looking for major league ready, controllable players. Haniger would be a good start and Dipoto is seeking starting pitching.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies are a bit of a mess in the outfield right now. Charlie Blackmon is an incredibly talented player, but beyond him, Ian Desmond is a huge liability and Raimel Tapia is still getting his feet wet. David Dahl simply can’t be relied upon to stay healthy. Haniger would really stabilize the outfield at Coors Field.

Dipoto could target starting pitcher Kyle Freeland coming off a dreadful year after receiving Cy Young votes in 2018. No. 84 overall prospect Ryan Rolison, a left-handed starting pitcher, would certainly be another target for Dipoto. Supplemental pieces such as 1B Michael Toglia, 3B Ryan Vilade, or 3B Aaron Schunk could help push the deal to completion.

Philadelphia Phillies

There may not be another team more desperate for immediate success than the Philadelphia Phillies. While Bryce Harper is obviously the anchor holding down right field, left field and center field have question marks. Jay Bruce, Andrew McCutchen and Nick Williams comprise a group of guys vying for playing time, while all have concerns.

The Phillies have a number of arms they’ve moved from the rotation to the bullpen that could immediately help Seattle’s rotation. Right-hander Nick Pivetta would be a fantastic target for Dipoto.

On the farm, there may not be another starting pitcher in baseball with more helium than Spencer Howard. He’s shown one of the best changeups in the minor leagues over the past six months. Currently rated the no. 88 overall prospect in baseball, Howard may find himself in the Top 50 by midseason if he continues to progress as anticipated.

Final Thoughts

Trading Haniger is a sticky situation. He’s going to garner a ton of interest, and a ton of teams could use him — more than last off-season. But it’s important Dipoto not move his star right fielder for anything less than a prospect he’s sure will contribute to the big league ball club at a high level for the foreseeable future. Haniger is still only 28 years old. He conceivably has three or four more highly valuable years in front of him. Having Haniger through the 2022 season would be a huge benefit for Seattle as they build toward competing. There’s no need to parse that value out for marginal pieces.

@JoeDoyleMiLB