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The Mariners cannot trade Mitch Haniger

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The July trade deadline feels like a critical intersection for the Seattle Mariners

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Inevitably, if you’ve paid any attention to the Seattle Mariners and emotionally invested in this rebuild over the last three years, trade chatter is nightly pillow talk. Nothing gets Mariners fans more hot and bothered than a steamy prospect package.

Several times over the past 20 years, the Mariners have made deals shipping off big league talent to bring in top prospects. Fans have more access to prospect coverage than ever, and the enticing possibility of what those young talents could be can often lead to every good big leaguer on a less-than-sure contender being treated purely expendably. But the prospect-hoarding route is a treacherous one, and far more often than we’d like to believe at the time of a trade, young players acquired for Big League Talent™ do not pan out for the seller.

We’re in a weird meta. This is a dollars-per-WAR economy, though the most valuable asset is a fledgling lottery ticket of which the outcomes are vast. Teams are shipping out Cy Young winners for a handful of “toolsy kids” in the hopes one of those players becomes an above average regular. I’m certainly guilty of it. My whole schtick is amateur and minor league baseball. Projecting out future role and potential impact is my kink.

But if you want to win baseball games now, 17 year olds will not get you there. This feels like my midlife soapbox crescendo. Everyone, gather ‘round now, because Jerry Dipoto is in an interesting position in 2021.

His rolodex is thicker than a Wisconsin milkshake. If he wants to make a deal, there are deals to be had. Mitch Haniger finds himself with just a year and a half of team control remaining. He’ll be a free agent after the 2022 season. So with Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and Julio Rodriguez seemingly predestined to man the 2023 grass-pasture, should the Mariners capitalize on his value now and move him for a package that may better fit in their competitive window?

Absolutely not.

The Best Player

If Haniger isn’t the best player on the team right now, he’s certainly in the conversation. Still just 30 years old, despite a rash of injuries, Haniger is in the prime of his baseball career. Health permitting, it’s not outlandish to project a couple of all-star seasons from the Mariners right fielder in 2021 and 2022. Unlikely? Maybe. But not out of the realm of possibility.

If this team is so inclined to win and win in the immediate future, keeping guys like Haniger seems pretty obvious to me.

At some point, you have a sufficient amount of prospects to maintain the health of your farm system moving forward. Keeping your best players and trying to unabatedly win becomes the priority.

Injuries

Ironically, health might the number one reason to keep Haniger on-board. It seems as though a fully-stocked stable of outfielders at any one given time is pretty rare these days. In 2021 we’ve seen Lewis and Jake Fraley spend considerable time on the IL. Haniger himself gained residency on the IL after paying two years of shelf-rent in 2019 and 2020. Rodriguez and Kelenic have certainly spent some time on the IL in their young professional debuts as well.

Point is, if you’re worried about not having enough playing time for Haniger, Lewis, Kelenic and Rodriguez at one time, I’d urge you to consider the chances of all four of them being healthy at one time is rather slim. Also, we here in the American League have a designated hitter. Rotate these guys every three days and keep them fresh. Avoid said injuries.

Now if you subscribe to the notion Fraley and Taylor Trammell both represent above average fourth outfielder options (to which point they have not yet come close), then that’s a different conversation entirely.

Championship teams need good players on the field and good players rotating in. Keeping Haniger would help accomplish that if even only for 2022.

Veteran...ship

Veteran players are critical in winning championship and grooming young players into what those ceilings can be. Young players need guys they can go to to learn how to succeed and how to fail. Veterans teach you how to pick yourself back up. Just look at some recent champions, many of whom endured lengthy down periods or full rebuilds in developing their core.

The 2019 Washington Nationals were led by an infield of Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Josh Harrison and Eric Thames. All four guys are revered for what they bring to a dugout and clubhouse. You need this type of player on your 26-man roster.

The 2017 Houston Astros (cheaters) had guys like Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Carlos Beltran in their lineup to help mentor (if that’s what you want to call it.......) young players.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs leaned on guys like Ben Zobrist, David Ross and Jon Lester to develop a winning culture.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals relied on Alex Gordon, Zobrist and Chris Young to help lead a group of young, homegrown talent to the promised land.

For the 2022 Seattle Mariners, guys like Haniger and Kyle Seager will be critical in helping to develop the the next crop of players. Both Haniger and Seager have credited their work with M’s hitting coach Tim Laker in specific stretches with righting their swings, making them vital advocates and leaders by example for the coaching staff and front office within the clubhouse as they attempt to provide a young roster with the tools to succeed. Without those built-in advocates, the clubhouse would severely lack a vocal, veteran presence necessary to connect with players in a way Scott Servais and his staff likely cannot.

What are you going to get back?

All that being said, there are probably trades that make sense involving Haniger, but it has to be for players that will contribute immediately. And unfortunately, those deals feel unlikely.

The Chicago White Sox make the most sense, but will they see the value in Haniger to move big league assets immediately? Moving Haniger for an arm like Michael Kopech makes some sense for both sides, but this is assuming General Manager Rich Hahn feels similarly. Chicago has the arms to substantiate the move, but does Haniger move the needle enough to justify moving a controllable potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher like Kopech? If I’m Hahn, it’s a no.

You could also look at the Padres, a team hellbent on consistently competing for championships right now. They’ve run Jurickson Profar out into left field full-time this season, and the results have not been inspiring. With such a stable of starting pitchers currently being used, and guys like Mike Clevinger and MacKenzie Gore likely in the fold in 2022, maybe they deem Ryan Weathers dispensable. That’s the sort of deal that could make sense.

Final Thoughts

The trades above, by my estimation, aren’t likely to happen. The value Haniger provides to a young, hungry team far outweighs the value-add of any quantity-based prospect package Dipoto can get back in return.

The biggest question is whether or not you retain him after 2022. That’s a difficult question to answer without another 16 months of offensive production to consider. This will be Haniger’s first opportunity to cash-in during his career. He’ll turn 32 next offseason. If he continues performing at the rate he has this year, he’ll likely command at least a 3-, maybe 4-year deal, securing his financial wellness until his 36th or 37th birthday. Maybe you let him walk after 2022, but he will have added priceless veteran leadership to a burgeoning roster of young talent thirsting for it. After all, if you’re going to pursue prospects for the better part of two decades, isn’t it paramount you do anything and everything possible to ensure they succeed?