with Grant McAuley

  • Grant McAuley

Is Seattle’s Mitch Haniger the answer to the Braves’ outfield need?

If it wasn’t apparent when the winter began, the Atlanta Braves are serious about amping up the production in their lineup. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has already made one big addition and remains on the hunt to fill a void in the outfield.

There is no shortage of candidates to choose from.

Yes, Bryce Harper is on the free agent market, but so are several other capable bats who won’t cost over $30 million per season for the next decade or so. Additionally, there are some intriguing names on the trade market.

One of which is generating some buzz of late.

Mitch Haniger.

The Seattle right fielder blossomed into an All-Star run producer in 2018. Haniger slashed .285/.366/.493 with 38 doubles, 26 home runs and 93 RBI in 157 games for the Mariners last season. All of that was good for a career-best 4.6 fWAR (FanGraphs’ wins above replacement).

Haniger, who will turn 28 on December 23, has four years of team control remaining as well. Seattle is already his third organization in a seven-year professional career. Twice traded, Haniger was originally drafted by Milwaukee then shipped to Arizona and Seattle respectively.

Though the Braves find themselves looking for a corner outfielder, they do have some internal flexibility working in their favor. Ronald Acuña Jr. could move over to right field and open up left field for a potential acquisition. That allows Anthopoulos to widen his search for the best fit.

What makes Atlanta and Seattle ideal trading partners?

Given the events of this winter, these are two clubs apparently heading in opposite directions.

The Braves surprisingly returned to prominence by winning 90 games and the National League East title in 2018. Despite entering the season with high expectations, the Mariners were unable to keep pace with the reigning world champion Astros and were passed in the standings by the upstart Athletics as well.

Fast forward some eight months and the suddenly rebuilding Mariners are breaking up the squad despite an 89-win season.

Seattle general manager Jerry DiPoto has not been afraid to make trades during his three-year tenure. Given that he’s pulled off dozens of them annually, it may be his favorite thing to do. After packaging star closer Edwin Diaz with high-priced veteran Robinson Cano and sending them to the Mets, DiPoto followed up by trading shortstop Jean Segura to the Phillies.

It was a handful of All-Stars a lot of cash heading out of Seattle. The returns have been a bit of a mixed bag, with salary relief playing a major role in both of those deals. Now DiPoto could look to unload some of the team's other assets.

To do so, however, he may be seeking to attach a bad contract.

For example, a player like Haniger, who is a controllable asset and heading into his arbitration years, could be packaged with a player like Felix Hernandez. “King Felix” has yet to turn 33 years old but has regressed mightily over the past three seasons. He is owed just under $28 million in 2019 plus a complicated injury-related team option for 2020.

Not to say that scenario is DiPoto's preference or something he is currently asking teams to consider, but it is worth pointing out that Atlanta has just gotten itself out from under bad contracts and taking on other club’s debts. Entering his second year in charge, Anthopoulos is reaping the benefits of getting that money off the books and has ample funds to spend on improving his club this winter. It seems unlikely he would want to get back into the same boat that hamstrung his financial flexibility at times last season.

Now, if the Mariners are simply looking to maximize their return for Haniger, then Atlanta has the prospect capital to broker a deal for virtually any player available in trade. Finding the right deal is what Anthopoulos is spending this winter doing.

Haniger is a talented player who could slot into the middle of an ever-improving Atlanta lineup. As it stands, Ronald Acuña Jr. should be followed by the recently signed Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman atop the Braves order. Putting a power bat like Haniger into the cleanup spot would make the lineup even more formidable.

Though the winter is still young, it appears clubs in the National League East are determined to turn 2019 into an all-out battle for divisional supremacy.

Atlanta already added a former American League MVP in Donaldson, while the Nationals signed Patrick Corbin and the Mets and Phillies both pulled off major trades with the aforementioned Mariners. All of that is fast transforming the NL East into one of the most intriguing races next season.

Anthopoulos moved quickly to address one of the biggest needs for his team, adding Donaldson and veteran catcher Brian McCann in order to provide more punch to the lineup.

With outfield on the shopping list along with a top starter and bullpen reinforcements, Anthopoulos is not done yet.