Seattle Mariners

World taking notice of Mariners' Mitch Haniger ... and that's 'great fodder' for salary negotiations

Seattle Mariners Mitch Haniger (17) is greeted in the dugout after hitting a game-tying home run against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning of a baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
Seattle Mariners Mitch Haniger (17) is greeted in the dugout after hitting a game-tying home run against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning of a baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto realized he might have been better off tempering his praise, for strategic purposes.

But how could he?

Mitch Haniger has been too good.

And if he didn’t say these things, someone else would have, eventually.

“I think the world around us is starting to pick up on how good of a player Mitch Haniger is,” Dipoto said on one of his recent podcasts. “It’s in every way really.

“He hits for average, he hits for power, he has plate discipline, he grinds at-bats, he finds ways to drive in runs … he can really throw, he plays defense, he runs well and he’s a great teammate. So I think he fills up just about every box.

Dipoto then realized that probably doesn’t bode well for when the Mariners hope to save some money when Haniger is finally arbitration eligible in 2020.

“I probably just gave Matt Sosnick and the great people at Sosnick and Cobbe great fodder,” Dipoto said. “But deservedly so. He’s been a terrific player.”

Haniger entered Saturday among the American League leaders in seemingly every batting category – which is the basis for the Mariners’ push the past couple of weeks to get him nominated for American League player of the month.

He entered Saturday tied for the second-most home runs in the major leagues behind the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius.

Haniger went Hani-gone in four consecutive games, becoming the 15th player in Mariners history to accomplish that. And on the fifth day he didn’t homer, but his RBI single drove in the only run of the Mariners’ 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox.

He entered Saturday ranked sixth in OPS (on-base plus slugging) behind Gregorius, the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts, the Orioles Manny Machado, the Phillis Rhys Hoskins and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.

Safe to say, April showers bring Haniger homers.

Haniger did something similar last year before straining his oblique. He has hit .323/.413/.647 in the months of March and April the past three seasons, with last year being his first with the Mariners.

“There’s been a couple of days when I’ve felt a little off but for the most part I feel good,” Haniger told reporters in Cleveland. “Just trying to get better every day and trying to get good at-bats and drive some guys in.”

And Haniger has done all this batting sixth in the Mariners lineup – aside from a brief stint as their clean-up hitter while Nelson Cruz was on the disabled list.

He was one of three players in the major leagues to be in the top five in the majors in RBI (26), home runs (nine), slugging (.682) and OPS (1.064), alongside the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius and the Cubs Javier Baez, at least entering Saturday.

And for the baseball nerds, Haniger has a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus, which measures how a player's wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects) was 183 — tied for sixth-best in the majors, just in front of Trout and right behind Judge.

“Mitch has power – we saw that at certain points last year,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s just being more comfortable and understanding what the league is trying to do to him and getting him in certain counts – and then letting him eat, so to speak.

“He doesn’t hold back. When he swings, he lets it rip. He’s been outstanding.”

Like his two-run home run on Friday.

The Mariners had nothing against two-time Cy Young pitcher Corey Kluber and the Indians. Then Haniger stepped to the plate in the seventh inning, saw a first-pitch 92-mph sinker and skied it to left field.

That ball traveled 434 feet and cleared the 19-foot wall in left field. Not easy. Certainly less easy against Kluber.

Seven of Haniger’s nine home runs had come in the seventh inning or later – most in the majors, and four had come on a first pitch, tied for most with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper.

“He hit the ball a long ways,” Servais said. “Anything he does really doesn’t surprise me anymore. He’s so well prepared and he’s got such a great approach on a consistent basis. It’s not on one day and off another.”

What’s interesting, too, is that the Arizona Diamondbacks once had both Haniger and Gregorius in their organization before trading them to the Mariners and Yankees, respectively. And both of those have been considered two of the better trades for Dipoto and Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

Haniger and Gregorius were the only two players in the majors with at least nine home runs and 26 RBI.

Yet, also interesting, the Diamondbacks were 18-7 entering Saturday – with better records than the Mariners (14-11) and Yankees (16-9). So go figure.

But that doesn’t disappoint Dipoto. And he hasn’t just been impressed with the home runs.

He just as much, if not more, gushed about that go-ahead RBI single against the White Sox. Haniger trailed 0-2 and drove a curveball on the outer bottom corner of the strike zone the other way to score Kyle Seager.

“That really shouldn’t have been a hit,” Dipoto said. “And he managed to drive it through an infield that is positioned to defend exactly the pitch they were throwing.”

Dipoto went as far as to say Haniger is who you want your kid to grow up to become.

“Scott and the staff – all our staff, high performance, our medical teams, clubhouse group – he’s always going to be a favorite in that group because he treats people well,” Dipoto said. “He works hard every day, he comes to the ball park and grinds, he’s a philanthropic guy – he and his wife do a wonderful job in the community. I think when you want your son to grow up and be a baseball player, you want him to be somewhere in the lines of Mitch Haniger.

“I say that and I know it sounds gushy, but it’s true. He’s a tremendous, tremendous player and right now he’s getting deserved attention. It won’t go this good all year long. Sooner or later he’ll hit a pocket where it’s not as easy. But he’s proven his merit to us, that’s for sure.”

On tap

Left-hander Marco Gonzales (2-2, 5.56 ERA) starts in the series finale and makes his sixth start in the season. The Indians have right-hander Josh Tomlin (0-3, 9.24 ERA) scheduled for the 10:10 a.m. Sunday at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

The game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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