Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times reports that outfielder Mitch Haniger is hoping to return to the Mariners in 2023. Haniger, 32, is a pending free agent following a season where he slashed .246/.308/.429 in just 57 games as he was limited by ankle and back injuries throughout the year. The Mariners, for their part, have been effusive in their praise of Haniger, but have not publicly committed one way or the other regarding a possible reunion.
Divish opines that Seattle may extend Haniger a qualifying offer, and notes that Haniger would likely accept one if offered. The Mariners tagging Haniger with a QO would register as a surprise given his age, extensive injury history, and the depressed market that low-OBP, power-hitting corner outfielders like Haniger have found in free agency in recent years. Furthermore, Seattle is loaded on talent in the outfield, with Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, Taylor Trammell, and Jesse Winker among the options already under team control for 2023 to man the outfield alongside superstar Julio Rodriguez. With a clear hole at second base and high dollar contracts allotted to the likes of Robbie Ray and Luis Castillo, it’s possible that re-signing Haniger may not be the best use of Seattle’s resources this offseason.
On the other hand, Haniger is a beloved team leader who has been with the Mariners for six seasons, which makes him the longest-tenured player in a clubhouse that has frequently undergone roster churn in recent years. Furthermore, he’s been a reliable contributor offensively whenever he’s been on the field, having posted above-average seasons by OPS+ every season he’s played following his rookie 2016 season, when he played just 36 games. While the Mariners certainly have a plethora of options in the outfield entering next season, none of them (Rodriguez aside) come with Haniger’s track record of productivity. Winker is coming off a down season, Kelenic has struggled in the majors despite his prospect pedigree, Lewis has played just 54 games in the majors since his 2020 Rookie of the Year campaign and badly struggled when he was facing major league pitching in 2022, and Trammell may be better suited as a bench bat than an every day player.
Given all this, a reunion with Haniger could make sense for Seattle, though perhaps not at the level a $19.65MM QO would require. Divish suggests a multiyear deal in the $10-12MM AAV range could make sense, and that seems more plausible, though Haniger may have to resort to a shorter term deal given his injury-marred season in 2022.