Inbox: Will Haniger, Santana remain in Seattle?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers Mariners' fans questions

October 7th, 2019

With the influx of young and talented outfielders (Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, Jake Fraley, Mallex Smith, Julio Rodriguez, etc.) and an emphasis on letting younger players get a shot in the bigs in 2020, do you envision Jerry Dipoto trying to move Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana this offseason?
Brandon F., Boise, Idaho

Domingo Santana will definitely be on the trade block as he doesn’t seem to fit in the current plan, unless they decide to go with him at designated hitter instead of Daniel Vogelbach. Defensive liabilities -- his 12 outfield errors were the most in MLB this past season, despite only starting 98 games in the field -- and just two years of team control remaining make him a logical trade candidate.

But while Santana had a very strong offensive first half and is only 27 years old, those defensive shortcomings -- and the fact he’s in line for a salary increase after earning $1.95 million last year -- figure to limit his trade value. Dipoto would have moved him at the July 31 Trade Deadline if the right deal had emerged and that was before Santana’s second-half right elbow issue.

Haniger is a different situation. With three years of team control remaining as he enters the arbitration process for the first time this offseason, the 2018 All Star remains integral to the rebuilding process and he’s expected to be fully healthy by spring. While I never say never with Dipoto’s trade possibilities, the Mariners would be selling low if they traded Haniger coming off his injury-plagued season and he just has too much upside to deal him now in that scenario.

What is the committed payroll breakdown for 2020 and 2021?
Josh H., Litchfield, L.H.

The Mariners have just four veterans under guaranteed contracts for next season at a combined $47.5 million -- Kyle Seager ($19M), Yusei Kikuchi ($14M), Dee Gordon ($13.5M) and Marco Gonzales ($1M). Of those, just two -- Seager ($18M) and Kikuchi ($15M) are on the books with guaranteed deals for 2021 at a combined $33 million.

There are 10 other players who are arbitration eligible this coming season and in line for raises above the MLB minimum, including some like Haniger, Santana, Smith and Omar Narvaez who figure to get pretty good pay hikes. But the Mariners have far less payroll committed than a year ago, when seven players -- Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Mike Leake, Jean Segura, Seager and Gordon -- were guaranteed a combined $113 million.

Why were Haniger, Gonzales and Kikuchi considered big parts of the future plan, but James Paxton, Mike Zunino and others of similar age got traded because they were too old?
Jackie R., Woodinville, Wash.

Haniger and Kikuchi are both 28, Gonzales is 27, while Zunino is 28 and Paxton 30. But age really isn’t the issue. Far more important is these players’ contract situations and the number of years they remain under team control.

Zunino and Paxton both are entering their final year of arbitration, which means they’ll be free agents in 2021. Because they didn’t reach the Majors until later, Haniger won’t be a free agent until ’23 and Gonzales in ’24. Kikuchi signed as a free agent out of Japan and is guaranteed at least through ’22, with the Mariners able to extend him through ’25 if they choose.

With Ichiro Suzuki now retired, will the Mariners retire No. 51 next season and will it be for Randy Johnson as well as Ichiro?
Tyler H., Yakima, Wash.

They definitely won’t include Ichiro Suzuki in any jersey retirement yet, as the club guidelines for that honor require a six-year waiting period after a player retires from the game before being considered. The exact guideline is that a player must first be voted on for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which is a five-year wait, so a number retirement isn’t possible until the following sixth season at the earliest.

Randy Johnson obviously meets that criteria, as well as the other primary guideline, which is that a player must have been either elected to the Hall of Fame and been in a Mariners uniform at least five years, or come close to Hall of Fame election and spent a “substantial portion” of his career with the Mariners.

Given that they haven’t already retired Johnson’s number -- which would have been difficult since Ichiro was still using it -- my assumption is they’ll wait now until Ichiro is inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2025 and then have a No. 51 retirement ceremony for both players.

Do you think the Mariners should go get a Major League ready third baseman to take over after Seager’s contract is up? Somebody like Ty France or Miguel Andujar?
Colton S., Buckley, Wash.

Depth at any position is important, but Seager still has two years plus an option for a third on his contract, so I don’t see them trading for a current big leaguer to wait in the wings this soon. They could use Shed Long, Dylan Moore, Austin Nola or Tim Lopes there for now if needed -- as they filled in with Ryon Healy at the start of 2019 -- while waiting for a long-term answer from the farm system.

Scouts are extremely high on 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Noelvi Marte, who could be moved to third if he continues growing. And Joe Rizzo and 2019 draftee Austin Shenton are a couple other names to watch coming up.