2021 Season Preview: Seattle Mariners

(Photo: Joshua Bessex/Tacoma News Tribune)

Seattle Mariners
by Gregory Severin

2020 Record: 27-33 (.450 win%, 3rd in Division)

2020 Payroll: $112,821,592 (21st)

Projected 2021 Lineup (All projections from Steamer and Rotochamp):

1. SS J.P. Crawford, .243 AVG/.336 OBP/.379 SLG, 2.6 fWAR

2. RF Mitch Haniger, .241 AVG/.330 OBP/.442 SLG, 1.4 fWAR

3. CF Kyle Lewis, .233 AVG/.312 OBP/.399 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

4. 3B Kyle Seager, .237 AVG/.318 OBP/.433 SLG, 2.2 fWAR

5. DH Ty France, .257 AVG/.322 OBP/.431 SLG, 1.0 fWAR

6. 2B Dylan Moore, .225 AVG/.302 OBP/.386 SLG, 0.7 fWAR

7. LF Taylor Trammell, .223 AVG/.305 OBP/.343 SLG, -0.2 fWAR

8. 1B Evan White, .237 AVG/.303 OBP/.425 SLG, 0.6 fWAR

9. C Tom Murphy, .214 AVG/.272 OBP/.400 SLG, 1.0 fWAR

Projected 2021 Rotation:

1. LHP Marco Gonzales, 180.0 IP/4.51 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 2.3 fWAR

2. LHP James Paxton, 133.0 IP/4.03 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR

3. LHP Yusei Kikuchi, 158.0 IP/4.21 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR

4. LHP Justus Sheffield, 149.0 IP/4.49 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR

5. RHP Chris Flexen, 103.0 IP/4.13 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR

6. RHP Justin Dunn, 112.0 IP/5.28 ERA/1.48 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

After making waves in his first few offseasons in Seattle, Jerry Dipoto & Co. had a fairly quiet winter for the second year in a row. This shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise: of the many, many deals the Mariners’ GM made since taking the helm, the majority of them were made to bolster the team’s future. Now that the future is finally here, why block the talent you spent so much capital trying to acquire by adding more veterans? Kevin Mather may have had an answer to that question, but good riddance to him. Anyway, in the interest of letting the young guys on the team prove themselves, Dipoto spent most of his time making smaller acquisitions than the Robinson Canó megadeal or even the surprise Evan White extension of last year. Instead, he focused on filling a couple holes in the team and adding supplemental pieces to bolster the M’s young core.

Of the new faces in Seattle, the name that stands out is James Paxton. That’s right, the Big Maple has returned to the team that drafted him after two years in pinstripes. Paxton’s talents have always been obvious, but questions about his durability have hounded him from Seattle to New York and, after posting a 6.64 ERA in five starts last year, back to Seattle again. A reunion with the Mariners is a perfect match for the Ladner, British Columbia native. At 32, he’ll be the oldest pitcher in the club’s rotation, making him a great resource for the young arms as they develop. He’s back on a one-year deal to prove that 2020 was an outlier, and I can’t think of a better place for him to do it than playing in a city that adores him, wearing the uniform of the team with which he’s put up his best numbers.

Paxton wasn’t the only arm the Mariners acquired this winter, though. Joining him in the rotation is Chris Flexen, formerly of the New York Mets and most recently of Korea’s Doosan Bears. Flexen dominated the KBO in 2020, and the Mariners hope to see him build off of that experience rather than the lackluster numbers he put up in 11 MLB starts from 2017-19. The bullpen also saw a few upgrades. After converting to the bullpen for health reasons last year, Kendall Graveman returns on a one-year deal for his first full season as a reliever. He’ll be accompanied by two more players added from the AL West. The M’s traded for Rafael Montero, who was seen most recently converting eight saves in as many opportunities for the Texas Rangers, and signed Eugene, Oregon’s own Keynan Middleton after the Angels non-tendered him. Both bring some ninth inning experience to a bullpen that has very little. The most experienced closer the Mariners acquired, however, won’t see the field at all in 2021. Ken Giles, who saved 34 games for Houston in their World Series year, was signed to a two-year deal in February. Though he will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery this year, the hope is that he’ll be healthy and ready to return to his 2019 form come 2022.

The remaining additions and departures to and from Seattle were minimal. Dee Strange-Gordon’s $14 million contract option was unsurprisingly declined, and reliever Yoshi Hirano has returned to the NPB’s Orix Buffaloes. No other major acquisitions were made, but Will Vest might end up as a notable addition. Selected from Detroit in the Rule 5 draft, Vest is the third straight reliever the Mariners have acquired this way, and both Yohan Ramírez and Brandon Brennan have performed well after the change of scenery. Perhaps Vest will be able to follow suit and continue this trend.

2021 Season Preview:

This is the year the past several seasons in Seattle have been leading up to. In a shortened 2020, team rode the youngest roster in the majors to within shouting distance of a playoff spot. Yes, they had a losing record in 2020. No, the playoffs won’t be expanded in 2021. Nevertheless, the fact that every major contributor still on the roster by the end of last year should come back with another year of MLB experience should have the Mariners faithful looking forward to the coming year, a novel concept for the franchise with the longest active postseason drought in any major North American sport.

All eyes will be on the outfield from day one. Center fielder Kyle Lewis has overcome an injury-riddled minor-league career to blossom into a young star and the unanimous 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. Ken Griffey Jr. can’t say he was the unanimous Rookie of the Year. Neither can Ichiro. Now, some question marks obviously remain about Lewis; namely, will he continue to be the player we’ve seen for the first 300 plate appearances of his career? Lewis has been tabbed as a regression candidate ever since his first cup of coffee with the Mariners in September of 2019, thanks in no small part to his high strikeout numbers and a hairy swinging strike rate of nearly 15 percent, but the man has done nothing but rake ever since his arrival to the bigs, while adding highlight-reel defense. Most encouraging was an improved walk rate, up to 14.0% after only taking three free passes in his 2019 stint. I expect Lewis to continue proving himself as one of MLB’s exciting young stars in 2021.

Joining Lewis in right field is another exciting outfielder with an injury history and some question marks. After missing the entire 2020 season (and a substantial part of 2019) with an injury that made men wince in sympathy, Mitch Haniger is fully healthy once more. The last time Haniger played a full season, he was electric, triple-slashing .285/.366/.493 on his way to an All-Star nod and a team-best 4.5 fWAR. That was in 2018, however, and a now 30-year-old Haniger, who struggled in the 63 games he’s played since, has had few opportunities to prove that he can still be that player.

The players who look to be the Mariners’ everyday right and center fielders are undoubtedly noteworthy on their own, but it will almost certainly be the team’s left fielder who gets the lion’s share of attention. Jarred Kelenic, the main return in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Díaz trade of a few years ago, looks to make his debut this spring. Just don’t expect him to be out there on Opening Day. Instead, a different rookie will be patrolling left field in his place. Taylor Trammell, whom the Mariners managed to pry away from San Diego in return for Austin Nola, has earned the right to start after a torrid Spring Training. Trammell is another prospect listed in top 100 rankings league-wide, albeit a little farther down the list than Kelenic’s. If his spring numbers, including an OPS above 1.000, are to be trusted, Trammell is well on his way to earning back the faith of those who doubted him after an underwhelming season in Double-A ball. As for Kelenic? He should be up soon enough—though, watch out for when he gets the call. After the Mariners’ president and CEO made a few comments about service-time manipulation, Kelenic may well have a shot at winning a grievance if he stays in the minors for too long.

The Mariners infield may lack some of the big names of the outfield, but that doesn’t mean they should go unnoticed. Three of the team’s four Opening Day infielders have won Gold Glove awards, with two of them earning the honor this past year. The team’s two 2021 standouts are, alongside fellow hardware winner Kyle Lewis, intriguing members of Seattle’s youth movement. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has continued to improve on his defensive play, going from up-and-down play in 2019 to a well-earned accolade last year. Offensively, Crawford cut his strikeout rate and improved his contact rates to become almost as valuable in a shortened 2020 as he was in all of 2019. However, his bat still leaves something to be desired. His wRC+ hasn’t yet reached league average, and his barrel percentage was a miniscule 1.8%, good for seventh-worst among qualified batters last season. Still, Crawford’s obvious talents at the shortstop position will keep him in the lineup, and his pedigree as a former top prospect means there’s some offensive potential he might yet reach.

The story isn’t all too different when it comes to Crawford’s fellow Gold Glove-winning infielder Evan White. White made waves last year when he signed a six-year, $24 million contract despite only having played four games above the Double-A level. White isn’t a stranger to making waves, though. As a righty-batting, lefty-fielding, glove-first first baseman, he’s stood out ever since the Mariners drafted him 17th overall in 2017. And boy, did he stand out last year, for reasons both good and bad. Here’s the good: Evan White is incredible at playing first base. He wholeheartedly deserved the fielding accolades last year, making fantastic picks, sliding catches in foul territory, and providing more fodder for the highlight reel in his first season than any first baseman not named John Olerud had in their Seattle careers. In fact, some scouts thought his prowess in the field might be better realized in a corner outfield position, but White is adamant that he’s a first baseman through and through. Besides, this is Seattle we’re talking about. Between Lewis in center, Haniger in right, Trammell and Kelenic in left, and Julio Rodriguez in the minors, where would we put him? “What do we do with all of our talented young outfielders?” is an awesome question to have to answer, but it doesn’t mean I want even more outfield talent to be blocked.

Anyway, here’s the bad: White struggled mightily at the plate last season, posting the lowest batting average (.176), second-lowest OBP (.252), and second-highest K% (a nasty 41.6%) of all qualified hitters. Could this just be the growing pains of a young hitter trying to adjust to major-league pitching? It seems likely. White did improve over the course of last year, putting up much better (albeit still below-average) numbers in the second half of 2020. Much like Crawford, his plate discipline in the minor leagues was very respectable, so his low contact numbers in this case may well be timing issues after being confronted with MLB-caliber heat for a full season. Unlike Crawford however, first basemen can’t compensate for lackluster offense with eye-popping defensive skills, which makes White’s seat a little hotter than his teammates. Hopefully, White can adapt with time. The starting job is his to lose, but no first baseman can ride his glove to a position in the starting lineup without the offensive numbers to back it up, no matter how talented a fielder he may be.

The third Mariners infielder with gold in his trophy case is third baseman Kyle Seager, the longest-tenured player on the team who is now entering what will likely be his final year in Seattle. Seager has lost a step defensively, and he’s now 33, but the past two years have seen him deliver above-average offensive production from the hot corner. Everything seemed to go right for Seager last year, as he increased his walk rate and barrels while cutting down on strikeouts on the way to posting his best season by wRC+ since 2016. Curiously, Seager’s HR/FB was lower than his career average, indicating that it may not just be luck or a small sample size that propelled him to such a solid 2020. Though he is now entering the later stages of his career, Seager has proven that he can still be a valuable contributor to a good team.

The Mariners’ presumptive second baseman, Dylan Moore, did not arrive with the same pedigree as his fellow infielders. One could make the case that it was Moore, and not Kyle Lewis, who was Seattle’s breakout star in 2020. After all, Kyle Lewis was supposed to be good last year. Moore, who had bounced around various minor-league organizations before making the 2019 squad as a utility man, was decidedly not. And yet, Moore came out of nowhere last year to improve on practically every conceivable offensive metric (including dropping his K% a full six points) and post the third-most fWAR on the team in only 38 games. If you think this offensive explosion is too good to be true, the last three words of that sentence will stand out to you. Only 38 games. A lot can happen in only 38 games. 38 games into the 2019 season, Dan Vogelbach had an OPS of 1.060. My point is, we shouldn’t expect Moore to repeat his 2020 wRC+ of 138 over a full 162-game season. The Mariners think his offensive talents are here to stay, citing numerous changes Moore made to his swing and offensive approach. If they are, the Mariners will have found themselves a Ben Zobrist-type player who can couple excellent offensive production with extreme positional versatility. If he regresses, however, you can still depend on Moore to provide useful production as a utility infielder and fourth outfielder.

Staying in the infield, Ty France is poised to play his first full MLB season. France, who arrived in Seattle alongside Trammell, is ostensibly a third baseman, though with Seager not going anywhere this year he’ll slot in as the club’s everyday DH. France has played extremely well in the minors, as he did in 43 games at the major league level last year, though his 2020 performance was perhaps inflated by an eyebrow-raising .390 BABIP. France’s plate discipline and talent as a hitter are clear, though. His defensive profile leaves something to be desired, but he could step in at second base should Moore falter. To that end, keep an eye on utilityman Shed Long Jr. The best name on the team was uninspiring in 2020, losing his job at second base to Moore as he put up an unfortunate triple-slash of .171/.242/.291 in an injury-shortened season. Long was an above-average hitter in his rookie season of 2019, and his hit tool is there, but he will face stiff competition for a starting job in 2021 while still recovering from last year’s surgeries.

Finally, our attention turns to the faces behind the dish. Like Haniger in right field, the Opening Day starter is likely to be a player who missed all of 2020 to injury. Tom Murphy, one of the brightest spots in a lackluster 2019, is fully healthy and ready to pick up the tools of ignorance once more. We last saw Murphy post a team-leading 3.2 fWAR in 76 games two years ago, coupling excellent pitch framing and defensive skills at catcher with some serious pop at the plate. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Murphy appears to be exactly the player Mike Zunino was supposed to become. Like Zunino, Murphy bounced around between Triple-A and the majors for the first several years of his career, never quite sticking thanks to absurdly high strikeout rates that never really went away—he still got punched out 31% of the time in his torrid 2019. Murphy is now 30, and it may be difficult for him to shake off the rust and return to a 2019 form. If he isn’t up to the task, Luis Torrens will be right there to take over. Yet another return from the Austin Nola trade, Torrens is expected to be the second half of the Mariners’ catcher platoon. He doesn’t have the eye-popping offensive profile and raw power that Murphy displayed, but that doesn’t mean we should sell the 25-year-old short. After a slow start to 2020, Torrens thrived in Seattle, pacing the team with an average exit velocity of 92.3 MPH. His solid (read: un-Murphy-like) plate discipline carried him to a 97 wRC+ that should play quite nicely at a position that doesn’t really depend on offensive skill. In the hopefully unlikely event that Murphy falters, Torrens will be a dependable option to pick up the slack as he enters this season.

Pitching-wise, the Mariners have almost as many enigmas as they do in the lineup. There is one major exception, and that exception is named Marco Gonzales. As he looks to start his third consecutive Opening Day, Gonzales has been nothing short of stellar as the Mariners’ No. 1. Since arriving in Seattle, Gonzales has rarely missed a start and demonstrated an ability to pitch deep into games. In eleven starts last year, he was fantastic, and there’s no reason to expect anything less this year. Gonzales’ lack of overpowering stuff has led some to describe his pitching style as “boring,” but don’t be fooled. He’s earned his place as the club’s top starter.

Behind Gonzales is a very familiar face, back from a brief stay in the Bronx. James Paxton is another top-of-the-rotation lefthanded starter in Seattle, though he brings with him both more velocity and more question marks than Gonzales. Paxton has been an exceptional pitcher when healthy—look no further than his becoming the first Canadian pitcher to throw a no-hitter on his home soil—but a number of setbacks over his career have given him the dreaded label: injury-prone. It is true that Paxton has only ever thrown 160 innings in one season (2018), but perhaps a lessened workload will do him some good this year: the team’s plan to go with a six-man rotation for the year will help take some of the pressure off and maybe manage his usage a little better. Yes, his 2020 was a disappointment, but I have full confidence that the Big Maple can return to his usual excellent form this season. It’s also worth noting that Paxton reportedly took a discount to come back to the Mariners, and he shares a special bond with the fans. Expect the left field bleachers to be packed—or at least, as packed as safety protocols allow—with raucous fans and maple trees every time Paxton makes a home start, egging on the city’s favorite Canuck.

Here’s where the rotation starts to get interesting. The other two pitchers to have sewn up a rotation spot are Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi, two more southpaws, giving Seattle the most heavily lefthanded rotation in the league. Sheffield broke out last year, increasing his command and heavily clamping down on the longball to post a team-leading 3.17 FIP in 10 starts. His HR/FB was only 4.4% last year, a remarkable improvement from a putrid 15.6% the year prior. The secret? A change in mentality—from trying to overpower guys with high-90s heat to a Gonzales-style focus on command—and an improved sinker. Sheffield has been a heavy groundball pitcher in Seattle, getting batters to put it on the ground over half the time, which should play nicely in front of this team’s defense. Kikuchi, meanwhile, has faced struggles since coming over from Japan’s Seibu Lions two years ago. Though his ERA didn’t see much improvement, he actually pitched to a 3.30 FIP and 3.37 xERA last year, and improved his GB% eight points to 52%. Kikuchi’s bad luck has been maddening, and no metric illustrates this better than the fact that he only left 59.9% of batters on base last year. For reference, the league average in LOB hovers around 70-72%, and with very few exceptions pitchers see regression towards this average. So long as he builds off of his 2020 peripherals, we have to trust that results will come in time.

The two righthanded pitchers who look to crack the Opening Day rotation are Justin Dunn and Chris Flexen. Finally, a pitcher whose name is an answer to the question “What’s Chris doing shirtless in front of that mirror!” Dunn, the non-Kelenic prospect acquired in the Edwin Díaz trade, has not yet seen much MLB success as a starter. He’s pitched to a 6.54 FIP in his admittedly short career, a far cry from his lights-out performances in Double-A. His issues have led scouts and columnists around the league to suggest that Dunn, who has a plus fastball-slider combination, may be better suited for high-leverage relief roles. This would be a last resort in his development, though, so we should expect Dunn to focus on working out his issues as a starter before seeing him in the eighth or ninth innings. Curiously, Flexen is another struggling pitcher who saw time with the Mets, though he arrived by way of Korea. Flexen just flat out wasn’t good in New York, but a layover in the KBO may have revitalized his career. He posted a 2.74 FIP and a K% of 28.0 on his way to one of the greatest KBO pitching seasons of all time. Perhaps he can build off this success now that he’s returned to the MLB. It’s possible: Flexen started throwing his curveball, which is a very solid pitch that tunnels well with his fastball, a lot more often in Korea. Of course, his success could just as easily have been due to Korean batters having difficulty catching up to his fastball, which while nothing special stateside, had the second-highest average velocity of Korean pitchers. If this is indeed the case, he should be expected to falter now that he’s pitching to batters that have to deal with triple-digit heat regularly.

Reinforcements who could be counted on to replace Dunn or Flexen if things go wrong (or, if things go really wrong, any of the other starters), include Nick Margevicius, a portsider who posted a mid-4 ERA and FIP over seven starts last year, Ljay Newsome, a command-first rookie who saw limited time in 2020, and Logan Gilbert. Gilbert, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, is by far the biggest name, though he won’t make the Opening Day roster. I would expect him to have the inside lane in picking up an available rotation spot as the year progresses, as the Mariners are extremely high on him and he has flashed ace potential throughout his time in the minor leagues. His debut should come sooner, rather than later. Margevicius and Newsome will likely start the season in the bullpen, where both contributed solidly in 2020 when they weren’t given the starting nod.

The Mariners made a number of changes to their bullpen in the offseason, but by and large this remains an intriguing but inexperienced group. The big name here is Kendall Graveman. Graveman wasn’t originally acquired by Seattle to appear in relief, but he’s made the best of a role forced onto him by a medical issue. He performed well in a few relief appearances last year, pitching to a 3.09 FIP, 0.90 WHIP, and .182 batting average against. He may well start the season as the team’s closer, but that doesn’t mean you should count out Yohan Ramírez or Rafael Montero. Ramírez, last year’s Rule 5 draft pick, pitched to a 2.61 ERA in 16 games last year, though this figure hides a 6.05 FIP that is the product of a league-high 21.3 BB%. Ramírez’s control issues make him a work in progress, but his raw stuff—a nasty fastball-slider combination—is undeniable. Montero doesn’t have Ramírez’s electric potential, but the one-time Texas Rangers closer brings both ninth-inning experience and a 5.9% walk rate to the table, a needed addition to a bullpen that led the league in BB/9 last year. Keep an eye on Andres Muñoz. Yet another addition from San Diego, Muñoz boasts filthy stuff, pairing a wipeout slider with a fastball that routinely surpasses 100 MPH. He’ll start the season on the IL after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last March, but his Seattle debut should be hotly anticipated come July.

Record Prediction: 78-84

What are the 2021 Seattle Mariners? Well, to me they look like a very fun team of exciting young players. Honestly, I don’t think I can expect much more than that. Most of the lineup is built off of young guys who have impressed in limited time, but this carries the risk that the guys we saw tear it up in their first few dozen games will come down to earth as they play a full season for the first time in over a year, or in some cases, the first time ever. It would be incredible for players like Lewis, Trammell, France, and Moore to all burst out of the gates and prove that their numbers weren’t a product of a small sample size. It would likely propel the Mariners to a winning record, and possibly playoff contention. But that doesn’t mean it’s likely. The rotation is a solid unit as well, but it, too, is unpredictable. Pitchers like Paxton, Sheffield, and Kikuchi have had trouble translating their talents to consistent success in the past two years, no matter how unmistakable their raw skills may be. Ultimately, this team probably isn’t capable of beating Oakland, Minnesota, Tampa, or Toronto for one of the two Wild Card spots. They’re too young, unproven, and unpredictable for me to make that call just yet. But keep an eye on them. In one or two years’ time, this squad may well have transformed themselves into the next electric young core. If that happens, the seeds for success will have been planted this year.

Player to Watch #1: LHP Marco Gonzales

I almost went with Kyle Lewis here, but ultimately I decided to spotlight the more proven Mariner – a player who is in my opinion among baseball’s most underrated pitchers. Despite not having overpowering velocity, Marco Gonzales has very quietly become one of the most dependable starters in the league. The lefty’s very crafty arsenal of pitches—most which he can throw in any situation—and ability to control the strike zone has led him to put up 9.2 fWAR since 2018, landing him among the top 20 pitchers league-wide in that same time frame. Gonzales kicked it up a notch in 2020, pitching to a 3.32 FIP and walking a measly 2.5% of batters. The knock on him is that he doesn’t have the pure strikeout stuff of a prototypical ace, but’s proven that he doesn’t need it to outwit the best hitters in the league. At 29 years of age, and under contract for the next three years, Gonzales should be anchoring Seattle’s rotation for the foreseeable future.

Player to Watch #2: OF Jarred Kelenic

You may have noticed that a certain top prospect was conspicuously absent from my preview of Seattle’s outfielders. No, I’m not trying to manipulate Jarred Kelenic’s service time by not talking about him until later in the article, I just felt that the 21-year-old deserves a section of this article all to himself. Kelenic’s rookie season didn’t start off too great, after the now-disgraced Kevin Mather admitted to trying to manipulate the contracts of top prospects like Kelenic and pitcher Logan Gilbert in all but as many words, but I expect his play to be making the headlines once he joins the big leagues. The 21-year-old can be found hanging around in the top 10 on any top prospects list under the sun, and it doesn’t take long to find out why. Kelenic is a five-tool player who oozes confidence, and why shouldn’t he? He’s torn it up at every stage of his development. The lack of experience above the Single-A level—having only played 21 games in Double-A in 2019—still makes him fairly raw, and it’s ostensibly why he won’t be starting the season in Seattle. That didn’t stop the Mariners from demonstrating their faith in Kelenic’s skills by offering him an Evan White-esque six-year deal in the offseason, but I digress. Kelenic’s arrival in 2021 is a matter of when, not if, and when he gets here we shouldn’t ask if he’ll live up to the hype. We’ll be asking how much he’ll exceed it.

Player to Watch #3: OF Mitch Haniger

Few things in sports are more disheartening than seeing a player realize his potential, only to have it stripped from him by circumstance and blind fate. In 2017, Mitch Haniger was a sleeper candidate for the Rookie of the Year award until injuries (and Aaron Judge sending baseballs to the moon) ended that conversation. In 2018, he proved his believers right by putting it all together in a fantastic sophomore season. He entered 2019 as The Guy in Seattle. His face was front and center in seemingly everything Mariners-related, from bobbleheads to television promos to the massive posters adorning the newly-rechristened T-Mobile Park. And then everything fell apart. One of the nastiest injuries you’ll see cut short one disappointing season and ended another before it could even begin. Haniger is 30 now, and he is arguably the player on the team with the most to prove in 2021. Pre-2019, the right fielder profiled as a smart, disciplined hitter who could take a walk and wait for the perfect pitch to drive. The walks were still there in 2019, but his strikeout rate ballooned to an ugly 28.6%, higher than noted bastions of plate discipline like Javy Báez and Khris Davis. Despite this, several of his peripherals from 2019 were nonetheless encouraging. A BABIP nearly eighty points lower than his career average indicated he was unlucky when it came to more than just freak injuries, and he actually improved upon his barrel percentage. The tools have always been there for Haniger, he just has to demonstrate that they haven’t atrophied after spending so much time away from the game. We’ve seen the player he can be, and the player the club hopes he can be once more. Hopefully, it isn’t too late for him to recapture his lost stardom. A return to form would go a long way, both for him and for the Mariners.

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