Mitch Haniger To Red Sox? Why Boston’s Rumored Interest Makes Sense

Haniger is a buy-low option on the free agent market

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December 2, 2022

Will the Red Sox make waves this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2022. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2023 and beyond.

The Red Sox reportedly were interested in José Abreu, who signed with the Houston Astros earlier this week, so it certainly makes sense for Boston to now direct its attention toward comparable alternatives — like, say, Mitch Haniger.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Red Sox and Texas Rangers were among the most serious suitors for Haniger, a free agent outfielder who spent the last six years with the Seattle Mariners.

Haniger is coming off an underwhelming 2022 beset by injuries — an all-too-common theme in his Major League Baseball career — but he’s been a solid all-around contributor when healthy, to the point where the Red Sox, among others, might view him as an enticing bounce-back candidate.

Let’s dissect Haniger’s possible fit with Boston.

Info
Position: Outfield
Age: 31 (Dec. 23, 1990)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 214 pounds
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

2022 stats (with Seattle Mariners)
57 games (247 plate appearances)
11 HRs, 34 RBIs
.246/.308/.429
114 OPS+, 0.8 fWAR

Career stats (six seasons)
564 games (2,437 plate appearances)
112 HRs, 323 RBIs
.261/.335/.476
123 OPS+, 11.8 fWAR

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Why Haniger makes sense for Red Sox
We actually explored this very subject in our 2023 Red Sox roster projection published earlier this week. So, be sure to check that out. But basically, it boils down to Boston needing to fill the right-handed power void left by J.D. Martinez’s (potential) free agency departure. Haniger, as mentioned, didn’t have a good 2022, due to a high ankle sprain limiting him to just 57 games, but his overall track record is strong enough to make him a viable buy-low target, likely attainable at a reasonable cost given the injury risk attached.

Haniger was an All-Star and finished 11th in American League MVP voting in 2018, a season in which he posted a career-best 139 OPS+ while slugging 26 home runs and compiling 93 RBIs in 157 games. He was unable to replicate that success in 2019, appearing in just 63 games due to a ruptured testicle that required surgery, and then missed all of 2020 after undergoing core muscle/hernia surgery and a microdiscectomy. The 2021 campaign marked a return to form, with Haniger finishing 20th in MVP voting behind a career-high 39 homers and 100 RBIs along with a 122 OPS+.

Haniger’s batted-ball metrics have tailed off a bit since 2018, when he ranked in the 89th percentile in max exit velocity, the 89th percentile in expected slugging percentage (xSLG) and the 86th percentile in expected batting average (xBA). That’s to be expected now that he’s into his 30s with several operations under his belt. But there’s still a fair amount of red in his Statcast profile, and better health, the opportunity to DH more frequently and the elimination of the infield shift in 2023 could do wonders for his career.

Not to mention, moving from pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park to hitter-friendly Fenway Park might help, as Haniger’s 2021 spray chart (below) sure looks like it’d play well in Boston.

MLB free agent Mitch Haniger
Baseball Savant

The Red Sox could deploy Haniger as their everyday DH, assuming Martinez signs elsewhere, but he’s decent enough defensively that he wouldn’t be a total liability in the outfield, where Boston has an obvious need alongside Alex Verdugo and Kiké Hernández.

MLB Trade Rumors predicted Haniger will land a three-year, $39 million contract in free agency. And since the Mariners didn’t extend him a qualifying offer, whichever team signs Haniger won’t need to surrender draft-pick compensation — a notable tidbit with the Red Sox exceeding the luxury tax threshold in 2022 and having several other holes they must address before Opening Day 2023.

Why Haniger doesn’t make sense for Red Sox
The injuries, mostly. Haniger’s career has been filled with peaks and valleys, evidenced by him surpassing the 100-game mark just twice. While the upside is obvious, so, too, is the risk. Boston’s roster, as it stands, is littered with question marks. Can the Red Sox really afford to add even more volatility to the mix? Or should they opt for someone who brings greater stability, even if it means a lower ceiling? Is such a player even available?

Haniger has spent his entire career in the outfield (mostly in right field), and that could prove valuable as manager Alex Cora pieces together his lineup card over 162 games. The Red Sox might prefer someone with stronger defensive metrics, though, given the complexity of playing right field at Fenway Park.

Haniger clearly would be a bat-first addition, and Abreu, a first baseman, admittedly would have been a smoother fit in that regard, as Boston still doesn’t have a right-handed complement to Triston Casas.

Verdict: Good fit, capable of replacing J.D. Martinez’s 2022 production at DH while occasionally playing the outfield.

Prediction: Haniger signs with the Red Sox.

Thumbnail photo via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images
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