CLEVELAND -- If he keeps hitting like this, Mitch Haniger will be headed to his second All-Star Game in four weeks. Does he allow himself to think about it? Yes, but in a very reserved way.
“Going through all the surgeries and stuff, my main goal has always been win a World Series,” Haniger said at Progressive Field this weekend. “And missing so much time, my goal was to be one of the best outfielders in the game. Come back, not only get back on the field and just play, but no, I want to come back and be one of the best.
“So, it would mean a lot to get back to an All-Star Game. At the same time, I'm not setting my sights on that whatsoever. I need to just focus on today, take it one day at a time. And I feel like that's the best way to get your results; focus on the daily grind.”
Haniger is so insulated in his daily routine that he barely looks beyond that day’s game, and he certainly doesn’t look back, even in the crests and depths of the six-month season. And the Mariners are hopeful that the ball he fouled into his left knee that caused a bone bruise in Sunday’s 6-2 win over Cleveland won’t set him back long.
His meticulous mental approach has been a huge boon for his resounding return this season with an even more elite form than the one he played with the last time he was an All-Star in 2018.
It’s also how he’s able to block out external factors out of his control -- such as the looming July 30 Trade Deadline.
Haniger’s name has been floated as a candidate to be moved, given that 1) his bat could clearly help a contender, 2) he has one final year of arbitration eligibility for 2022, and 3) his prorated salary of $3.01 million for the rest of ’21 is extremely affordable. There are plenty of contending teams needing an outfielder, such as the White Sox, Braves, Padres and the Cleveland club that he’s facing this weekend.
That, and the Mariners could have an outfield crunch by the time Haniger reaches free agency, via Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, Julio Rodríguez and Taylor Trammell, assuming that quartet remains healthy and on a promising player-development trajectory.
“I can't control any of it,” Haniger said. “If they're going trade me, I can't say yes, no, whatever. So, like, why even think about it, stress about it? I have no control over it.”
The Mariners could be in a challenging spot in the coming weeks on how to approach Haniger’s situation, especially if they hover around .500 as they have all year. General manager Jerry Dipoto said in January that contending for a postseason spot would be the barometer for a successful season. That would mean playing meaningful games in August and September.
So, trade Haniger now for more prospect capital while his value is as high as it might ever be? Or keep him for the rest of the season to help further bridge to Seattle’s young core? Or, another consideration that might seem like an outlier given his 30 years of age and all the talent on the way: Keep him into 2022 and possibly beyond?
“I've been traded twice now. I know it's possible,” Haniger said. “I know it can happen, and my job doesn’t change. I love Seattle. That being said, I have no say whether it happens or not. But I'll show up every day and help my team win.”
Seattle is 3-8 since losing Lewis to a torn meniscus, which the reigning American League Rookie of the Year underwent surgery for on Wednesday. Mariners manager Scott Servais is optimistic that Lewis will return this season, but when remains a huge unknown. In that context, they need Haniger now more than ever.
There’s the intangible value, too, that Haniger brings as an elite-level veteran on a team looking to emerge from a multi-year rebuild.
Haniger is the team’s best player, leading the club with 1.5 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs. He also paces the Mariners in slugging percentage (.518) OPS (.828) and RBIs (40), and despite his injury setbacks from 2019-20, he’s played in 63 of its 66 games.
He’s also on pace to blow past his previous career high 26 homers from that All-Star 2018 season. He’s crushed 16 so far, tied for fifth in the Majors, and more than sluggers such as reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman and AL MVP runner-up José Ramírez. Haniger is on pace for a whopping 39.
“The one thing that stands out to me with Mitch, that a lot of our young guys are learning from, he doesn't ride the emotional roller coaster,” Servais said. “It's refreshing to see. Players will go through a tough stretch -- 10, 12, 15 at-bats or you have a couple bad outings -- they quickly, they want to snap. They’re throwing bats and helmets and everything else. Mitch doesn't do that. He understands that it’s a long season. He knows there are going to be ups and downs throughout the season, and it’s really refreshing. And I think a lot of our guys are learning from that.”