Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen is no stranger to the talent that Mitch Haniger possesses. After all, Hazen flipped Haniger to Seattle in a deal for Taijuan Walker as one of his first orders of business after accepting the job in 2016.
Now, according to reports, Hazen wants him back.
Haniger has long been the subject of trade rumors. His value couldn’t have been higher last offseason after posting a 6.1 bWAR season. At the time, Haniger had four more years of controllability and limitless upside. Now, one calendar year later, he’s coming off an injury-plagued 2019 where, when healthy, he didn’t produce as expected. Add in the fact he’s now in his arbitration years and suddenly, Haniger’s monumental value has diminished a bit.
But Jerry Dipoto doesn’t feel that way.
And he shouldn’t.
Haniger, when healthy, is still an all-star caliber player. In 2019, the batting average was down and the strikeouts were up (significantly). But the defense remained strong, and the power output — albeit with TaylorMade baseballs — skyrocketed too.
Dipoto is insistent Haniger still holds an exceedingly high value. He’d have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move his right fielder. For that reason, we at Lookout Landing agree, a deal is unlikely.
That being said, it’d be an awfully silly wager to bet against Dipoto scratching his proverbial itch.
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic notes that the Diamondbacks are unlikely to part with some of their elite prospects, namely catcher Daulton Varsho, shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, and 2019 first rounder and Lakeside HS product Corbin Carroll. Varsho, Perdomo and Carroll represent Arizona’s no. 3, no. 7, and no. 12 ranked prospects according to Baseball America.
Arizona has a pair of outfielders in Alek Thomas (no. 2) and Kristian Robinson (no. 4) that really jump off the page. Seattle is pretty stacked at the outfield position, but if Dipoto subscribes to the notion you always go after the best player in any deal, both represent a couple of the highest ceilings in the organization.
I got a chance to scout Thomas a couple times toward the latter half of 2018. He’s an explosive athlete with a good hit tool and a plus defender. Power was never going to be Thomas’ calling card, but 2019 saw the Chicago, Il native pop 10 dingers, easily eclipsing his career high of two from 2018. Although he hasn’t played above High-A, there are many that believe Thomas will move quickly in 2020. Just 19 years old, he and Jarred Kelenic represented a couple of the most impressive teenagers in minor league ball last year.
Robinson, 18, is a loud, loud bat that projects to have plus power at the big league level. Strikeouts are an issue for the Bahamas product, but he’s still awfully young. A five-tool talent, Robinson has all the intangibles to be an impact player at the next level, but he’s probably three years out from even being in the conversation. He’s yet to play above Low-A.
Aside from top-shelf talent, Dipoto would almost certainly target a major-league ready starting pitcher in the exchange. Hazen is flush with rotation arms, all with varying degrees of value and circumstance.
Robbie Ray, 28, will be the most notable name that will surfaces in talks. Ray is a big league veteran having logged 146 starts in his six-year career. Ray has regressed each of the last two years after posting a 163 ERA+ season in 2017. He’s still been a reliable pitcher though, posting a 103 ERA+ last season in 33 starts.
Ray will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 campaign, so if Dipoto were to target him in the return, he’d have to be viewed as an extension candidate, or bounce-back deadline flip candidate this season.
Frankly, Ray is in a similar situation to Haniger. He’s looking to prove himself, and Hazen won’t want to move him for pennies on the dollar. Ray himself, if traded, probably wouldn’t want to sign an extension in his walk year with his value where it currently stands — especially with a team like Seattle who’s tearing it down to the studs.
For this reason, Dipoto would essentially be moving Haniger and re-wagering his chips on Ray to rebound. If that’s the case, why not just hold your cards and bet on your in-house asset in Haniger? I don’t think Ray makes sense in the deal.
There’s a pair of more controllable, less proven arms that make more sense for Seattle in a return package. Zac Gallen, 24, probably represents the most valuable target. Gallen was acquired from the Marlins at the deadline this season in exchange for shortstop prospect Jazz Chisholm. The UNC product works in the low 90’s with his fastball, complementing it with a high-80s cutter, developing changeup, and curve that floats to the plate in the upper 70s.
In 15 starts, Gallen posted a 156 ERA+ and 3.61 FIP on the way to a 2.5 bWAR rookie campaign. Pretty impressive. Gallen has long been pegged a mid-to-back end rotation option while coming up through the St. Louis and Miami systems, so some might argue he was outplaying his profile. That being said, he won’t be free agent until the 2025 offseason, making him an extremely controllable, high-upside arm.
Luke Weaver may be the most appealing starter that could come over to Seattle in a deal. Weaver, 24, had a bit of a breakthrough campaign in 2019 after some middling years with the Cardinals. A former top 50 prospect, Weaver posted career-bests in FIP (3.07), ERA+ (152), as well as BB/9 and H/9.
Unfortunately, he missed all of June, July and August with a mild right flexor elbow strain that included a mild right UCL sprain. He came back to throw two innings in September before the season ended.
Weaver comfortably sits 93-95 with his fastball, and even touched 98 in 2019. He compliments the heater with a cutter, changeup and curveball. He’s shown strong command with the changeup, and the curve is a true 12-6 yacker.
As long as the arm holds up, he’s a good bet to stick as a mid-rotation starter. There’s obvious risk in acquiring any pitcher with a history of UCL damage, but Weaver doesn’t have a long history of arm injuries.
So with that being said, what would a deal actually look like? Well, as previously mentioned, we’re skeptical a deal including Haniger exists. That would require a team valuing him closer to his 2018 iteration, rather than his most recent production. But if Hazen is willing to offload some of his talent, the Diamondbacks GM is certainly more familiar and comfortable with his Haniger and his abilities than just about anyone.
Diamondbacks Receive: OF Mitch Haniger
Haniger immediately slots in at right field, supplanting the current option, Tim Locastro.
Mariners Receive: SP Luke Weaver, RHP JB Bukauskas, IF Blaze Alexander
Weaver, as previously mentioned, would immediately slot into the Mariners rotation, right behind Marco Gonzales. He represents a much needed righty for Seattle and would ideally be with the club for the foreseeable future, through the perceived playoff window.
J.B. Bukauskas, 23, is formerly a 2017 Houston Astros first round pick — he was moved to Arizona in the Zack Greinke deal.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Bukauskas throw a number of times in his young career. He possesses one of the best sliders in all of minor league baseball. He throws it with authority and it has hard, late life. That pitch, playing off a mid-90s fastball, can be absolutely devastating on right-handed hitters. Both Houston and Arizona have been insistent on keeping the North Carolina product in the rotation, but he’s really struggled to produce results in that role.
I’ve long felt Bukauskas will end up being a power 8th inning guy setup guy. His repertoire is perfectly suited for the role. If moved to Seattle, it would behoove the organization to move him into the bullpen where he could immediately contribute, if not by July at the latest. He’s yet to pitch above AA, but that’s mostly due to performance in a starter role. His stuff has not diminished.
Blaze Alexander, 20, is a tooled up shortstop that many believe will end up at second, or even third base due to his plus-plus arm — It’s an absolute howitzer.
Alexander was an 11th round pick in the 2018 draft and has performed admirably since. 2019 saw the Florida native post a .262/.357/.381 line at Low-A Kane County where he also hit seven home runs. He’ll likely be challenged in 2020 with a High-A assignment. There’s some swing-and-miss in his game, but he draws a good amount of walks and moves well on the base paths. Alexander likely won’t debut until 2022, so there’s plenty of time to let him develop, especially with JP Crawford and Kyle Seager penciled in on the left side of the infield until then.
One other thing to mention in this entire scenario is Arizona’s Competitive Balance A pick for 2020 — the 34th pick in the draft. FanGraphs values that pick at a $9 million value.
$9 million in ‘value’ is about the same value as you’d get in Bukauskas.
We all know how Jerry and Co. love some Comp Balance picks, so that’s something to keep an eye on as well.
While a deal involving Haniger is probably unlikely, if anyone, the Diamondbacks might represent the most rational of all destinations. I still firmly believe Haniger is a 4.0+ WAR player year-in and year-out. He’s not injury-prone, but more simply a victim of bad luck.
If Dipoto were to move him, it’s imperative he bring back a player or two with substantial production expected. Both Weaver and Bukauskas represent arms that could contribute in Seattle at a high-level, while Alexander is a project Seattle could develop over time.