Mariners camp 'just feels like home' to Haniger

February 18th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The timing of ’s return to the Mariners carried some humorous irony.

Only a few months before the Jan. 5 trade with the Giants that returned the outfielder to the place where he blossomed into a big leaguer, Haniger had sold his house in West Seattle.

But it gets better.

Haniger had been renting the home to a few of Seattle’s younger players after he signed with San Francisco the prior offseason. Cal Raleigh lived there throughout last season, with a few others trickling in and out.

Raleigh had intended to find a new place this year anyway, as did Haniger, whose family outgrew the house when he and his wife were preparing to welcome their second child. Yet, that Haniger held onto the house in transition to a new club -- and more so, invited teammates who went from prospects to pros during his Mariners tenure -- speaks to the relationships he’s fostered, even without knowing if he’d ever play with them again.

“Last year was hard for me to go into a new place and trying to establish friends and learn the staff, learn the system, learn everything,” Haniger said. “And then my season started and stopped a couple times, and it was just a lot to deal with. And I think players don't talk about that a lot. Hats off to a lot of guys that go to a new environment and it's just smooth sailing for them. Obviously, that wasn't the case for me, but I know I learned a lot and I'm grateful to be back here.”

Haniger praised the Giants for their open arms, beyond the three-year, $43.5 million contract and playing for the team he grew up rooting for.

But in the short stint he’s been back with the Mariners this spring, he’s reminded of what he left behind -- the high-performance staff that helped him through multiple injuries, the coaching staff’s elaborate structure of preparation and the teammates with whom he helped build a culture rooted in work ethic.

“In terms of showing up now, it's like I never left,” Haniger said. “I know how we run Spring Training, and it just feels like home to me.”

Haniger isn’t Seattle’s longest-tenured player anymore -- that’s J.P. Crawford -- but he jokes that he’s the oldest, entering his age-33 season. With that comes even more deliberation with his training regimen, which was already among the most thorough.

Last year, Haniger was on the IL at the start of the season (left oblique strain) and end (lower back strain), and he missed over two months after a hit-by-pitch fractured his right forearm. Overall, he was limited to 61 games and slashed .209/.266/.365 (.631 OPS).

Injuries -- nearly all of them flukes -- also defined his five seasons with the Mariners.

Haniger missed six weeks with a right high ankle sprain in 2022 on an awkward swing, and a foul ball that ruptured his testicle in June 2019 led to him missing the rest of that season. In between, he missed all of '20 following surgeries to repair a sports hernia on his lower core and a discectomy in his back.

But when healthy, Haniger was arguably the Mariners’ best position player back then, with a career-high 39 homers and 100 RBIs in '21.

Haniger and the Mariners intend to be proactive about health this season, and their outfield depth that includes Luke Raley, Dominic Canzone and others should allow them to give him off-days when needed.

"I think if I would've had a really good year last year, I probably would've never gotten traded,” Haniger said. “I think just having another kind of fluke injury and missing a bunch of time and having a terrible year kind of opened the doors for a trade, and to get traded back to this place, where I've always loved playing.”

Haniger is earning $20 million this year and carries a $15.5 million player option for 2025, notably more than what the Mariners offered in free agency after the 2022 season -- a one-year deal with a team option for '24.

He recognizes this could be the latter stages of his career, and like he regularly voiced even in years when it wasn’t realistic, he talks of title aspirations.

“Ultimately, like what else are we doing here? It's not about just collecting a paycheck,” Haniger said. “We are very grateful for how much money we get paid to play this game, but we’re trying to do something special. I want to retire one day and have a World Series ring, hopefully a couple of them.”