Aaron Judge. Cody Bellinger. Andrew Benintendi. Trey Mancini. Ian Happ. Manuel Margot. The 2017 season saw an influx of rookie outfielders emerge on the scene, each of whom would receive Rookie of the Year votes in their respective leagues. Although a Jacob deGrom fastball to the face prevented him from playing enough games to become a finalist in a stacked field, Seattle Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger looked poised to join the new outfield youth movement, having posted a .282/.352/.491 (129 wRC+) in 96 games as a rookie.
Fast forward six years, and suffice to say, Haniger’s story can best be described as a rollercoaster. Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, Haniger was traded twice — first to the Diamondbacks, then to the Mariners — before making his major league debut in 2016. After a promising rookie campaign, he put together an elite 2018 season in which he slashed .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs, good for a 137 wRC+. Over the course of that year, he accrued 4.8 fWAR and 6.5 bWAR, putting him on the map as a future star.
2019, however, would prove to be a disaster, as a ruptured testicle and a torn adductor muscle limited him to just 63 games. Complications in his recovery led to him missing the 2020 season entirely. He returned to play a whole season in 2021, slashing .253/.318/.485 with 39 home runs (121 wRC+), but missed the majority of 2022 due to a high ankle strain and a trip to the COVID-19 IL. In the end, he posted a .246/.308/.429 slash with 11 home runs in 57 games.
The Yankees, obviously, need outfielders. Because the team clearly does not consider Aaron Hicks a starting outfielder and prefers to use Giancarlo Stanton in the field only on a part-time basis, another corner outfielder is needed even assuming the team re-signs Aaron Judge. Could the 31-year-old Haniger, a right-handed power bat, fill that role for the team?
In many ways, Haniger fits the profile of what the Yankees look for in a batter: he hits the ball very, very hard. His average exit velocity of 91.9 mph would have ranked behind just Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees lineup this past year, and his 11.8 barrel percentage would have been behind only those two and Matt Carpenter. Only Judge, Stanton, and Kyle Higashioka (?!?!) had a higher hard hit percentage than he did (47.2 percent). On top of that, he played fine defense in right field, accruing 3 Defensive Runs Saved and 2 Outs Above Average in just 396 innings; while it’s been a few years since he’s played left field, there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t adapt to the position if he needed.
That said, there are two problems that make him less of a fit. For starters, Haniger is a right-handed hitter, and while I do think that the need for a lefty bat in Yankee Stadium is a tad overstated, this team is still heavily right-handed — Anthony Rizzo and switch-hitters Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera are the only left-handed bats on the roster at the moment. Second, and more importantly, he has played just 277 games since the end of the 2018 season. I don’t blame him for losing as much time as he did — the ruptured testicle was the result of a foul ball off the groin, and the rehab and recovery for this injury directly resulted in several other injuries. However, the truth is, he’s headed into his age-32 season, and he has played just one full season in the past four years. That’s not a gamble the Yankees, who have the injury-prone Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Hicks currently under contract for 2023, should be really interested in taking.
Somebody will take a chance on Haniger — so far, the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Los Angeles Angels have all been linked to him. There’s a solid chance that whomever signs him will end up with a team-friendly contract for a veteran outfielder with pop. The Yankees, however, should not be that team; that money should instead be used for a more reliable outfielder, like Aaron Judge.