As they pass the seasonal quarter-pole being no-hit for the second time in two weeks, here’s a couple of positive developments regarding the Mariners’ offense. Hey, you know me — Mr. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.
Haniger, 30, is the near-term. Rodriguez, 20, is the far-term.
The question for general manager Jerry Dipoto: How quickly does he want to attempt to close the gap, via the July 30 trade deadline?
The question is relevant because, as the Mariners’ batting average slipped below the Mendoza Line as a team at .199 heading into Wednesday’s game with the Detroit Tigers, who suddenly have gone all Koufax and Drysdale on the Seattles, options are few for a fix.
Even if there were competent, mid-career position players available in trade — unlikely since nearly all of MLB is in a similar offensive crisis — there is little point in having them take away developmental time from young players, especially after the lost minor league season of 2020.
Remember, 2021 is No. 3 in the step-back seasons. How many more we are asked to indulge isn’t clear. But to abandon any part now is to make a bad situation worse.
With 12 players on the injured list, there really is only one move. I suggest it be counter-intuitive.
Near-ball is to keep the proven Haniger, seek competitive relevance in September and patience with Rodriguez as he moves up from Class A to AA to AAA. If Haniger stays and remains healthy, along with CF Kyle Lewis and LF Jarred Kelenic, Rodriguez’s only spot in a relevant September would be DH.
Far-ball is to trade Haniger, among MLB’s home run leaders with 12 entering Wednesday, at his apex value, for a quality, hard-throwing prospect who projects as a No. 3-4 starting pitcher.
Yes, a pitcher. They are the coin of the modern realm.
Finish the season with the wounded rotation and a lesser outfield, and give Rodriguez, the club’s No. 2 prospect and No. 5 in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, a full year in the minors, then start his service time clock in ’22 at 21.
The scenarios have developed because, ahead of Class A Everett’s game in Spokane Wednesday, Rodriguez had homered in four of the past five of the AquaSox’s first 13 games, and was hitting .327/.413/.727. Haniger has come back to play a superlative right field while hitting .263/.316/.556 after playing only 63 games in 2019 and none in 2020.
Rodriguez also has a shot to be an Olympian. He will play for the Dominican Republic in its qualifier tournament May 31 in Florida for the Summer Games in Tokyo in July.
If the DR advances to Japan, Rodriguez’s timetable for promotion might be delayed, although it’s already hard to say he should not move up to AA Arkansas right now.
“He’s tearing it up, which doesn’t surprise me at all,” manager Scott Servais said Sunday. “So, I’m sure at some point here in the near future, there will be the opportunity for him to move up when the time is right. Again, there are a lot of young players that are off to a great start. So, I’m really excited.”
Signed at 17, Rodriguez has lost developmental time to a broken wrist bone as well as the 2020 shutdown. And he didn’t hit well in winter ball against experienced pitching.
Still, the kid’s on a rocket to the bigs.
“He’s a dynamic talent,” Dipoto said. “There have been superstar players like Mike Trout, some of the great players of all time, who have made their way to the big leagues at a young age, and I won’t count that as impossible for Julio.
“I don’t want to surmise that’s likely to happen in 2021, but Julio is the kind of player that could easily move multiple levels in one season.”
Servais said J-Rod’s eagerness to learn is impressive.
“Knowing Julio and his personality, he’s very curious,” he said. “He asks a lot of questions. He takes it in. He wants to be great, and knows that all the knowledge that he can pick up from these older guys is really going to help him.
“It’s certainly played out in the early season, to the point where he can work himself through an at-bat and make adjustments, maybe understand this guy’s going try to throw me a bunch of sliders because I’m a big right-handed power hitter . . . it’s a huge experience for young players to go through that.”
Time remains for many things to happen prior to the trade deadline. Already, the Oakland A’s and Houston Astros, as expected, are starting to put daylight between themselves and the rest of the American League West. And the Mariners have little depth to deal with their magnitude of health travail.
But for 2022, the Mariners’ pipeline has a plausible candidate to fill well nearly every position-player vacancy, Already it has delivered LF Kelenic, CF Lewis, 1B Evan White and SS J.P. Crawford. When healthy, Ty France will succeed Kyle Seager at third, and well-regarded Cal Raleigh in AAA Tacoma will be the every-day catcher. That leaves only second base, where Dylan Moore’s bat seems to be coming around, and DH. Feel free to complain about White’s hitting.
So that leads to the notion of trading Haniger for a starting pitcher.
Humiliating as are the double no-nos, it’s a transitory development unworthy of bringing down the house. Adding to the rotation this summer that includes Marco Gonzales, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield and rookie Logan Gilbert, takes the pressure off having little choice but to accept erratic Yusei Kukuchi’s final contract year option of $13 million. Only if he masters consistency will it be worthwhile.
Trading a pro’s pro in the clubhouse such as Haniger would be a blow. But he’s probably said and done all that he can in terms of leadership, and he’s not exactly C-3PO when it comes to idle clubhouse chatter.
Given the number of pitching injuries, in Seattle as well as around baseball, teams need to stack the 97 mph guys like boxes in the cereal aisle in order to trot out five (or six) in working order. Haniger is the only “senior” eminence on the roster capable of prying one loose from a contending club in July — or even June, something Dipoto likes to do.
As with C Mike Zunino and Tampa Bay (he’s hitting .218 with 1o HRs and 20 RBI), Haniger rates a shot at the post-season after serving his time in Seattle since 2017. Good behavior still counts with the parole board.
And Seattle needs another front-line pitcher, because until MLB solves the game’s profound offensive decay, that’s what matters.