It’s been nearly 18 months since fans of the Seattle Mariners have seen their best offensive player play a Major League Baseball game. But after a series of surgeries that cost him 99 games in 2019 and all 60 games of 2020, outfielder Mitch Haniger is finally on track to begin baseball activities in January and could be ready to play by Opening Day of 2021.
This is obviously a welcome sight for the Mariners, and their fans, if GM Jerry Dipoto seriously believes his team can compete for a playoff spot in 2021, a sentiment he has echoed the past week. Haniger is an above-average player across the board when healthy and would instantly become the best bat in the teams young lineup. But how big of a difference can a healthy Mitch Haniger actually make?
As it turns out, quite a bit of difference. In his first three seasons in Seattle, Haniger has posted a 10.6 rWAR, or a 3.5 WAR average, in just 316 games. In a 162 game season, this would amount to roughly a 5 WAR player. An all-star, in layman’s terms. But it gets even better. Haniger would improve one of the weakest offensive positions for the Mariners in 2020, right field.
In 2020, Mariners right fielders slashed .219/.296/.364, good for a whopping 86 wRC+. Even if Haniger returns and just reaches his career averages of .267/.348/.480 and a 124 wRC+, Seattle gets a massive gain. They go from a below-average offensive position to a borderline All-Star, all without spending a dime.
The difference between these players could be as high as 4 wins, which would get Seattle closer to their goal of their playoffs. MLB appears set to reuse the current playoff system, where the Top 2 teams in each division make the playoffs as well two wild card teams. Over the past 5 seasons (2015-2019), the average record of the 8th seed would have been 82-80 and in 3 of those 5 seasons, a sub-.500 team would have made the playoffs.
This season, Seattle went 27-33, a 72-73 win pace. If Haniger can add 3-5 wins to this team, they very well could be halfway to their goal of adding 6-10 wins without making a single move. A healthy Mitch Haniger and some improvements by the players already in the organization could lead the team to a 75ish win mark. A healthy Haniger brings the Mariners a few wins closer without breaking the bank and if 2021 is indeed meant to be a playoff season, they’ll need to find as many wins in the organization as they can.