I am a huge Mitch Haniger fan. I don't believe I am the President of this club, but I am definetly a card carrying member. But how can a 26 year old rookie be one of the 10 most important players on a team with playoff aspirations? Because the Seattle Mariners have made it so.
The Mariners have not wavered from their belief that Mitch Haniger will be the Opening Day rightfielder. In fact, during last weekends Fan Fest, Manager Scott Servais believes Haniger will hit 6th, behind Kyle Seager and ahead of Danny Valencia. That is a lot of faith to put in the hands of somebody with 123 PA's.
Haniger does poses 25 home run power, and has showed that he will be at least league average in the field. He can steal 10-15 bases in the right enviroment. The tools make Haniger appear to be a very intriguing 4th outfielder who could possibly grow into a starting role.
But the Mariners have refused to engage with veteran outfielders like Angel Pagan to protect themselves in case either Haniger or Jarrod Dyson prove unable to handle a full time work load. Simply put, the Mariners need Haniger to be a solid-average player.
Fangraphs Steamer projections believe Haniger will post a .249/.315/.414 slash with 15 homers and 6 steals. They believe the defense will regress to slightly below-average, but have a projected fWAR of 1.4 in 2017. As unsexy as that may sound, that would be a perfectly acceptable outcome for Haniger.
The defensive drop seems a bit odd, as Haniger was the second best outfielder in baseball in September and October, primarily as a centerfielder. A move to rightfield should lessen this load, and in theory, should improve his defense. If Haniger repeats his defensive prowess of 2016 in RF, you could be looking at a solid 2 win player.
Should Haniger fail, the team could be forced to turn to Ben Gamel or Guillermo Heredia. Or perhaps force the team to call up Tyler O'Neill earlier than they would like. If he can prove to be just an 1.5-2 win player, it will allow for Servais and company to play the best mathcups and lengthen the lineup.
The Mariners can not have a black hole in their lineup, and already have questions at catcher and firstbase. If Haniger can be a solid Major Leaguer, it will be one less thing for the Mariners to worry about.
The 2017 Seattle Mariners have a new slogan: "Whatever it Takes". The Mariners have made it no secret, this year its playoffs or bust. The team appears better than its 2016 counterpart, but still needs several players to perform well if they wish to end the 15 year playoff drought.
The team will need Yovani Gallardo to perform well if they want to snag one of those 2 Wild Card spots, let alone the AL West Division. Gallardo, who was the only player who returned in the Seth Smith trade, must solidify the back-end of this rotation.
2016 was rough for Gallardo, posting a 5.42 ERA while throwing only 118 innings, his lowest total since 2008. His 6.5 K/P was the second lowest of his career, and 1.39 K/BB ratio was the worst in his career. But it wasn't all that long ago that Gallardo was a pretty good pitcher.
From 2009 to 2015, Gallardo averaged 191 innings pitched, while posting a solid 3.69 ERA. His ERA+ during that time was 109, making him 9% better than an average MLB pitcher. Walks will always be an issue, as his career 3.5 BB/9 indicate. His strikeouts have dropped significantly. From 2009-2012, he averaged 9.4 K/9, but since, his K/9 has plummeted to 6.6.
The Mariners do not need Gallardo to be his 2011 form, but they need him to be closer to his 2105 form than his 2016. Gallardo will slot into the #5 spot of the rotation, and if he can provide 180 quality innings, the Mariners are in great shape. If Gallardo cannot, the rotation takes a major hit.
If Gallardo doesn't make most of his starts, the club will be forced to lean on the likes of Ariel Miranda, Chris Heston, Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
Gallardo comes in at #10 on our list for 1 simple reason: stability. A healthy and productive Gallardo means the Mariners have a solid, playoff quality rotation. If not, the Mariners need one of the unproven pitchers behind him to become a capable #5 starter.
After the Gallardo-Smith deal, the Mariners were in need for a replacement outfielder. The ideal replacement would be a player who provided more defense and a threat on the base-paths. Enter Jarrod Dyson.
Dyson is a 32 year outfielder, formerly of the Kansas City Royals. He throws right and hits left, and is entering the final year of his orignal club control years. He doesn't have the same offensive profile as Seth Smith, adding almost no power to the lineup, but had a career year in 2016. He had a career high OBP of .340 and cut his strikeout numbers down significantly.
Dyson is a major upgrade to Smith in every other way. Defensively, Dyson grades out as elite at all 3 outfield spots. General Manager Jerry Dipoto believes Dyson will play in leftfield, but will allow Manager Scott Servais to give Leonys Martin a much needed break. His arm is above-average, and won't prevent him from playing all 3 spots.
Perhaps most importantly, Dyson is an excellent base-runner. He has 30 steals or more in 4 of his 5 full seasons, and has an 85% success rate when attempting to steal.
In order to recieve the 3 fWAR Dyson, Dipoto had to deal one of his favorites, pitcher Nathan Karns. Karns figured to start the year as the #5 starter, and still has upside left in his game. Karns got off to a great tart in 2016, but fell off towards the middle of the season, before spending several weeks on the DL with a bad back. Karns is 29 years old, so it is possible he will never reach his potential, but he could be a solid #3 type if he ever does.
Dyson is in the final year of club control, and is expected to make just $2.5 million in 2016.
Dyson appears to be a perfect fit for Jerry Dipoto's vision of the Mariners Outfield. His excellent speed allows him to go gap to gap to chas down any flyballs, and his versatility allows the Mariners to play matchups with its other outfielders.
Dipoto also wants a lineup that constantly puts pressure on the opposing pitcher. Dyson checks that box. His dynamic speed forces the defense to be nearly perfect with the ball, and if he can continue to cut down on his strikeouts, Dyson probably fits into the #2 slot in the lineup, allowing Cano, Cruz, and Seager to drive him in.
This is a "win now move" and Dyson is a near perfect fit for Dipoto's vision. Losing a talent like Nate Karns is tough for a 32 year old with only 1 year of control, but it is a necessary cost for the Mariners closing window.