Could Mitch Haniger add juice to Padres outfield?

Mandatory Credit: Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2022 season began, there was much hand-wringing about the potential lack of production in the outfield for the Padres. For the most part, that proved true. Could former Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger be a respectable addition?

The Padres’ outfield as a whole was 26th in batting average, 26th in OPS, 27th in slugging, and 27th in home runs. That includes the two months the team enjoyed the services of the all-world talent that is Juan Soto¬†after the trade deadline in early August.

Now that the offseason is upon us, the Padres have already suffered losses to the already thin outfield group. Some of that is the franchise’s own choice, like declining Wil Myers‘ $20 million option for next year. That was mostly a no-brainer, given he has produced just 2.0 bWAR over the last two seasons combined.

Jurickson Profar, after one of the best seasons of his career, opted out of his player option to become a free agent in hopes of receiving more than the $7.5 million he would have earned in 2023.

This does not mean that one or both of these outfielders cannot return to San Diego on different deal. It’s possible but not likely, especially in Myers’ case. Both players seemed well-liked in the clubhouse.

As of now, on paper, the Padres’ outfield features Juan Soto in right, Trent Grisham in center, and options like Jose Azocar or Brandon Dixon for left field. This is, of course, unless you subscribe to the notion that superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. will move to the outfield upon his return a few weeks into the 2023 season. The organization has not made it clear one way or the other on his future position in the field. Even then, Grisham was abysmal at the plate (.184 average, 83 OPS+). There is no guarantee Tatis will be able to, or even want, to play in the outfield. That unit needs help.

The Padres need to consider external options to boost their offense, especially in the outfield spots. Enter Mitch Haniger.

Credit: AP Photo

Back in 2018, Haniger was an All-Star for the Mariners. He finished that season with 26 homers, 93 RBI, an .859 OPS, and 139 OPS+. He even received MVP votes after that 6.5-WAR campaign.

However, in the four years since, he has accumulated 6.0 WAR combined. Injuries plagued most of his 2019, all of his 2020, and most of his 2022 seasons. From 2019 to 2022, he missed a combined 269 games with multiple injuries. Therein lines the risk of possibly signing the San Jose native.

Notwithstanding, his talent is unquestionable.

His 2021 season offers a glimpse into his upside. He played in 157 games, essentially a full season. His 39 home runs were tied for sixth-best in all of baseball. He was one of just 14 players in the AL with 100 RBI. His 110 runs scored ranked sixth in the American League.

In the field, he certainly is not a Gold Glover. The Padres would be signing him for his hitting prowess rather than elite defense. Even with subpar defensive metrics, his arm strength is a plus. In 2021, he was in the 83rd percentile for arm strength. In 2022, he ranked in the 79th. His plus arm could help the Padres prevent opposing baserunners from taking an extra base or even throw out a potential run at the plate.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Due to him missing extensive time in 2022, it was difficult to gauge some of his metrics. In the season prior, he produced some optimal metrics, such as being higher than 80th percentile in expected slugging and barrel rate.

Even if Tatis plays in the outfield, the Padres are also losing two viable options for designated hitter in Josh Bell and Brandon Drury, who both came to the Padres as midseason, two-month rentals. Haniger could also add depth to the lineup as another option at DH.

He played in just 57 games last year. However, when you flesh out his stats over a possible 162-game season, he was on pace for 31 home runs and 97 RBI, along with a respectable 114 OPS+.

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He made $7.75 million last year and is now a free agent. The possible contract he would receive is difficult to project, given his health history matched up against his All-Star numbers when healthy. Something between $7-9 million might do the trick. He would be cheaper than other outfield free agents like Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, or, yes, Aaron Judge.

The Padres could play to his upside. He has 30-homer power to all fields. The big caveat is health. Any way you slice it, signing Haniger would be a gamble, given his health history. However, at the right price, he could be exactly what the Padres need in a power-hitting, right-handed outfielder. The Padres just need to ask themselves, at what price do they take this gamble? What price is too high? Haniger is worth a look, as shown by his All-Star numbers for 2018 and 2021, but only to a certain price. Anything north of $10 million may not be worth it.

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