Fans of the San Francisco Giants have been on edge all day today after a hilarious gaffe from baseball writer/rake-stepper Jon Heyman infamously reported “Arson Judge” to the Giants. While Judge’s final destination is yet unknown, the Giants did get a badly-needed upgrade to their outfield: former Mariner Mitch Haniger, who signed a three-year, $43.5M deal with his hometown club.
When word broke that Haniger’s market was in the three-year range, it became difficult to see how Seattle, which has a wealth of young outfielders, could forge a reunion with Haniger, especially after acquiring Teoscar Hernández. However, clearing out Jesse Winker from the DH spot seemed to open up a slot for Haniger, giving the often-injured player an opportunity to take reps both in right field and at DH. Maybe the Giants, who are outfield-poor from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, offered Haniger an opportunity to play more regularly in right field, where his cannon of an arm will play up in capacious Oracle Park. A three-year deal is also the top end of what Haniger was predicted to make in free agency (FanGraphs crowd-source had him at 2/$24, for example). In becoming a Giant, the Northern California native also gets to don the colors of his hometown team, with friends and family aplenty in attendance.
Haniger’s market was stronger from the jump than many anticipated, given his injury history, which raises the question of why the Mariners didn’t attach a qualifying offer to Haniger. The most generous interpretation of that is that the Mariners didn’t want to do anything to damage Haniger’s market, as a sign of respect towards a player who lifted the Mariners through both the good and bad times of the past half-decade. The more cynical interpretation is the Mariners misjudged Haniger’s market and thought they might be on the hook for the QO, which both points to a penny-pinching ethos that’s becoming an uncomfortable but unavoidable theme over this off-season and suggests a misapprehension of the market. Familiarity can often breed contempt and while Haniger’s work ethic is beyond the pale, there have been comments over his long and checkered injury history from Dipoto and similar at times that could be interpreted as frustration with the team’s uncertainty over his lack of availability, especially when Haniger re-injured his core during his long injury layoff in 2020.
However, the free agent market in general has been more robust after a depressed market last year impacted by the lockout, with starters especially commanding premium prices. It’s a credit to Haniger that he is one of those early-moving pieces; clearly, the Giants, in win-now mode, have confidence that Haniger will be closer to his 2018 All-Star self than the injured player he was over the back end of his tenure with Seattle.
For Mariners fans, the departure of Mitch Haniger is the cutting away of one of the last vestiges of the first iteration of Dipoto’s Mariners. Traded to Seattle in late 2016 as a secondary piece in the Jean Segura trade, Haniger instead rose to become the heartbeat of the team over the past few years, capped off with his emotional piece for the Player’s Tribune promising to end the drought for Seattle fans. He saw both the last gasp of the old guard Mariners in 2018, the “stepback” bomb of 2019, the agony of just falling short in 2021, and the ecstasy of 2022, making good on the promise he made in the Player’s Tribune.
No player sums up the lived experience of being a Mariners fan more than Mitch Haniger—all the promise and hope and disappointment wrapped up in this sometimes exhilarating, often frustrating franchise. Mariners fans watched Mitch go from the highs of an All-Star season to the low of an injury-riddled season; they saw him Mitch claw back from that injury, only to lose much of this season to a high ankle sprain. The agony and ecstasy of being a Mariners fan is encapsulated in Mitch Haniger’s career. He is part of us, forever, not just because of that, but because he is the one who promised, out loud, that the drought would end, and then worked as hard as he could to deliver that on the field.
We have a walk off in Seattle by Mitch Haniger!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) August 27, 2022
Hey now. Hey now. Hey now.
“HEY NOW! HEY NOW! HEY NOW!” pic.twitter.com/w05djv7yON— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) October 3, 2021
Good luck in San Francisco, Mitch. We’ll always be rooting for you.