The 2022 Major League Baseball season brought with it many surprises.
On the West Coast, the Seattle Mariners, who entered with the sport’s longest playoff drought—having last been in the postseason in 2001—snapped their streak of futility with a 90-win campaign. They advanced to the American League Division Series, ultimately exiting amid a three-game sweep at the hands of the defending AL champion Houston Astros.
On the other side of the country, the Miami Marlins completed yet another disappointing season, losing 93 games despite the free-agent additions of Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García and a starting pitching staff that finished with the 8th-best ERA in the bigs (3.70).
Should the Marlins aim to compete in an NL East that featured three playoff teams in 2022, they need not look further than augmenting an offense that posted a collective .658 OPS. Turns out it is hard to win a lot of games when your team is one big Cody Bellinger in the batter’s box.
With Soler and García still on the books and a large class of players who’ll be eligible for arbitration raises, this team hopes to thread a needle by acquiring more reliable veteran bats without breaking the bank.
A popular name from the 2021-22 offseason, Michael Conforto, is still on the market. The owner of a career 124 OPS+ is a potential fit, but Miami may be wary considering he missed all of 2022 due to shoulder surgery yet reportedly declined a 2-YR/$30M deal from Houston at the end of August, further muddling the idea of what his market may be.
Another option is Conforto’s former teammate in New York, Brandon Nimmo, who checks multiple boxes for the Marlins. The owner of a career 13.6% walk rate, Nimmo would add a dimension of discipline to a Miami lineup that finished with the fewest walks (436) and second-lowest OBP (.294) in the National League. He can be trusted to push runs across, while also solidifying what has been a revolving door of late in center field. The only problem with Nimmo simply comes down to the cost to obtain his services—he may command a lengthy, nine-figure contract.
How about Mitch Haniger as an alternative for the fiscally conservative Fish? Limited to just 57 games this season due to ankle and back injuries, the longtime Seattle right fielder proved moderately productive, hitting 11 home runs and posting a .736 OPS (114 OPS+) in pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park. However, in 473 games between 2018-2021, Haniger hit .265/.340/.486, smashing 96 long balls and earning MVP votes in both ‘18 and ‘21.
MITCH HANIGER AGAIN!! AMERICA’S TEAM!! OUR MARINERS!! pic.twitter.com/J10UU8OhFU— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) September 28, 2021
For his career, Haniger has slugged .500 against left-handed pitching, addressing a very particular need for this team.
Haniger would not be the primary right fielder for the Marlins, likely deferring to García and his superior throwing arm. Rather, this would be a bet on the soon-to-be 32-year-old building on the limited experience he has in left (13 games) and center (87 games).
Soler’s steady stream of poor defensive play makes him the ideal candidate for the everyday DH role in 2023. In this universe, Garrett Cooper would potentially be traded to make the puzzle pieces fit together.
With an estimated market value of $14.7M per Spotrac, a raise from the $7.75M he made in 2022 is all but guaranteed for Haniger. He could wind up with a multi-year deal rivaling what García and Soler got in terms of average annual value. He won’t be cheap by any stretch, but on the surface, a more efficient option than the likes of Conforto and Nimmo.
Is Haniger worth the investment? Does adding another 30-something bat with suspect durability come with enough upside to justify the risk?