When he was first acquired by the Mariners on that night before Thanksgiving in 2016, Mitch Haniger was a quiet but intense player who rarely answered questions beyond a few sentences and was reluctant to open up about much of anything, particularly himself or his accomplishments on baseball.
But with each season, and with the confidence gained from being an established player in Major League Baseball, Haniger has become more comfortable in expressing himself and opening about the hell that was his career for the better part of 18 months.
On Thursday, The Players’ Tribune published a lengthy and candid letter he wrote to Mariners fans. It addressed the 2021 season and what the Mariners accomplished as a team, his joy of returning to the field after missing most of the 2019 season and all of the 2020 season due to injuries and his intense belief that the Mariners will be a playoff team next season, particularly if the front office spends money, which they’ve said they would on numerous occasions over the past few months.
From the letter:
“On one hand, look, I won’t sugarcoat it. We didn’t get the job done. The goal every year is to end on a W — it’s to win a World Series. And to win the World Series, you need to make the playoffs. We didn’t make it. It’s that simple. Our season ended on an L…. and I’d be insulting all of you guys reading this if I tried to spin it off as anything else. You deserve better than that, and you deserve an honest assessment of things. And I’m at the point in my career where I don’t really feel like being anything other than honest. I respect you guys too much not to speak my mind. And what’s on my mind right now is mostly just: We lost. And that sucks.
But on the other hand, the reality is, it’s also not that simple. Because while it’s disappointing as hell to have lost that last game, and to have fallen just short of the playoffs…. one loss doesn’t tell the whole story of how I’m going to look back on this season. It couldn’t possibly.
This season has meant so much to me — in so many different ways.”
Haniger also spoke about the Mariners playoff drought that dates back to 2001.
“It’s the same thing with the drought. Like…. obviously no one on this team has been here since 2001. It’s not “our” drought, really. But it is our drought. We know that. We know it’s part of the deal. And I’m proud of the way that we’ve carried that weight.
And also …
We lost when it mattered most. We fell short of our goal — period.
And I need every Mariners fan to know that.
But I also need them to know something else: This group is going to the playoffs. That’s not an if….. it’s a when. And that when is soon.
We’re going to end this (expletive) drought.
And then we’re not stopping there. Because, yeah: This hurts. Yeah, it sucks to be taking this step back. It sucks to go from having 40,000-plus rocking T-Mobile Park, to go from having this city fired up beyond belief, to now being stuck at home watching these games from the couch. I HATE it. But that’s how you overcome adversity, and that’s how you persevere — in baseball, or in whatever else. You fail…. you take your step back….. then you regroup. You figure it out. And you take TWO steps forward.”
Haniger was assertive in setting the expectations for the 2022 team before the offseason started. His prodding of ownership and the front office isn’t surprising, but it was also made easier with GM Jerry Dipoto and Mariners chairman John Stanton saying the plan was to spend this offseason.
From the letter:
“I hope the other teams in the league are all reading this, and they understand that we’re about to get after it in the offseason. And then we’re coming for one of those playoff spots — and more.
I hope our front office is reading this, and they understand that it’s time to really go all-in. It’s time to make some impact moves, and put this group over the top.
And I hope our fans are all reading this. I hope you guys understand that it may be the end of the season….. but it isn’t an ending. This is a damn start.”
Haniger also mentioned his looming free agency after next season and admitted that he thought he and Kyle Seager might be traded last season before the team started getting hot near the deadline.
He has said multiple times this season that the Mariners have yet to contact him about a contract extension. In an interview on sports-radio KJR, Dipoto, who was not mentioned by name in Haniger’s letter, said that they haven’t addressed Haniger’s contract situation.
With a cache of outfield prospects in the organization, there is a thought that the Mariners will let Haniger leave for free agency after next season. They could also trade him this offseason to address other needs.
Haniger turns 31 on Dec. 23 and will enter his third year of arbitration eligibility. He will be a free agent after the 2022 season at age 32. After a season in which he posted a .253/.318/.485 slash line with 23 doubles, two triples, 39 homers, 100 RBI and 2.9 Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference, he’s expected to jump from a $3.1 million salary in 2021 to approximately $9 million in 2022.