Posted on January 23, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
Spring training is still a few weeks away, but the Seattle Mariners have already suffered an injury that could impact the 2020 season. The club announced on Thursday that outfielder Mitch Haniger needs to undergo what they’re calling “core surgery” and will be sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. Haniger hurt himself earlier this week during offseason workouts. A 6-8 week timeline will keep him out for at least the first half of spring training and could threaten his availability for opening day.
The injury is yet another injury setback for Haniger, who sat out most of the 2019 season after suffering a ruptured testicle last June. He also had back issues during his rehab that hindered his chances of returning before the end of the season. Haniger ended up playing just 63 games, keeping him from following up on a breakout season in 2018. The Mariners haven’t shared many details, but this latest injury seems to be related in some way to the ruptured testicle Haniger experienced in June.
“It’s disappointing,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “I feel bad for Mitch. He was working his tail off. His strength was up and he was very excited to get back on the field and get it going again. But I know Mitch will do everything he can to get back as soon as he can. We’ll know more soon.”
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Losing Haniger for any amount of time will be a significant hit to Seattle’s chances in 2020. They undoubtedly missed his presence in the middle of the order during the second half of last season. During his breakout campaign in 2018, Haniger hit .285 with an OPS of .859, contributing 26 home runs and 93 RBIs.
In fairness, Haniger took a slight step back during the first two months of the 2019 season. At the time of his injury, he was hitting just .220 with a .314 on-base percentage. However, he also had 15 home runs at that point in the season and was on pace for a new career-high in longballs before the injury. He also posted a respectable .778 OPS before getting hurt.
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has mentioned that youngsters Braden Bishop and Jake Fraley could get an opportunity in right field if Haniger isn’t ready by opening day. Fraley was just 6 for 40 after making his big league debut last August while Bishop was 6 for 56 across several stints with the Mariners in 2019. Both are considered promising prospects, although neither may be ready to contribute at the major league level consistently.
Even before Haniger’s setback, the Mariners had questions about their outfield. Mallex Smith is locked into center field but is coming off a poor offensive season in 2019. Seattle is also counting on rookie Kyle Lewis to be the team’s primary left fielder. Lewis hit .268 with an OPS of .885 in 71 at-bats last September. But after coming up straight from double-A, it remains to be seen if he can handle playing every day in the majors for a full season.
One potential option is playing Dee Gordon in the outfield until Haniger returns. Gordon could be in line for a utility role if Shed Long continues to establish himself as Seattle’s second baseman of the future. Of course, Gordon lacks Haniger’s power and has been something of a disappointment during his two years in Seattle.
For what it’s worth, the Mariners are a rebuilding team that isn’t expected to compete in 2020. In fact, Haniger was mentioned as a potential trade chip over the winter. That option is certainly off the table at this point. Moreover, if Haniger misses the early part of the regular season, the Mariners could be vulnerable to a dreadful start that could take away any hope of a successful season even sooner than expected.