Red Sox rumors: Boston a serious suitor for Mitch Haniger

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 03: Mitch Haniger #17 of the Seattle Mariners looks on during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at T-Mobile Park on October 03, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 03: Mitch Haniger #17 of the Seattle Mariners looks on during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at T-Mobile Park on October 03, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox have former All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger on their radar

The Boston Red Sox have a hole to fill in the outfield and they need more thump in the middle of their lineup.

While Aaron Judge isn’t a realistic target to patrol right field at Fenway, the Sox reportedly have their eyes on arguably the next best available option on the market. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Sox are among the most serious suitors for outfielder Mitch Haniger.

The 31-year-old Haniger isn’t the flashiest name on the market, but looking past Judge, the list of power-hitting outfielders in this year’s free-agent class gets thin fairly quickly. The 31-year-old has displayed a high ceiling throughout a career littered with injuries.

Haniger had a breakout season with the Seattle Mariners in 2018, hitting .285 with a .859 OPS, 26 home runs, 93 RBI, and earning an All-Star nod. His encore performance the following season was spoiled by a series of unfortunate injuries. A foul tip to the groin resulted in a ruptured testicle and required surgery. While rehabbing from that injury, Haniger tore the adductor muscle off the bone. He would undergo core muscle/hernia surgery and a micro-discectomy operation, knocking him out for the remainder of the year and the entire 2020 season.

Most players would struggle to endure this difficult road to recovery but Haniger returned stronger than ever. In 2021, he smashed a career-high 39 home runs and drove in 100 RBI.

This year, a high ankle sprain put Haniger on the shelf for over three months, limiting him to only 57 games. His slash line dipped to .246/.308/.429, but he still tallied 11 home runs in limited playing time, putting him on a 30+ HR pace over the course of a full season. Baseball Savant lists his 91.9 mph exit velocity and 11.8 Barrel percentage as above his career levels while his 47.2 Hard Hit percentage was a career-high, though the small sample size must be taken into account.

There’s still plenty of pop in Haniger’s bat and a move to Fenway could unlock more extra-base potential. His right-handed, pull-heavy swing would find the towering Green Monster in left field to be an inviting target. All 11 of his home runs and the vast majority of his doubles were hit to left field this year. He’s not going to contend for a batting title but Haniger draws enough walks to boost his on-base percentage. His 8.1 BB% was only about average this year, however, prior to his string of injuries, Haniger posted consecutive seasons with a walk rate above 10.0%, which would have placed him just outside the top 30 in the majors this year.

Haniger has been a solid defensive right fielder throughout his career. His metrics dipped following his return from a lengthy absence in 2021, posting a career-low -3 Defensive Runs Saved and -7 Outs Above Average, but he bounced back this year with 3 DRS and 2 OOA, proving that he can still be an asset in the outfield with his injuries further behind him.

As one of the few free-agent outfielders with legitimate 30+ homer upside, Haniger has some appeal for a Red Sox team that finished 20th in the majors in home runs this year. While his injury history could be a red flag, they were relatively fluke injuries, not ones that should linger. Those concerns could also keep his price tag at a reasonable level, which the Sox will find appealing, as Chaim Bloom has only given out one deal in excess of two years since taking over for Dave Dombrowski in November 2019. Haniger probably won’t command a long-term commitment. MLB Trade Rumors predicted a three-year, $39 million deal, which seems reasonable. A two-year, incentive-laden deal in the $12-15M/year range with a club option is realistic.

The Mariners didn’t extend a Qualifying Offer to Haniger, so his AAV on a multi-year deal would fall comfortably beneath this year’s $19.65M QO salary. Not being tied to draft pick compensation makes signing Haniger that much more appealing.

The Sox are casting a wide net as they seek to upgrade their roster. Rumors of their “interest” in players they don’t end up signing have been a source of frustration for fans but it’s important to keep these reports in perspective. Boston is looking at almost every available option and will undoubtedly have some level of interest in anyone who can provide value to this team. They can’t sign all of them, though. Haniger falls in the category of a solid player who can fill a position of need in the outfield and in the lineup at a reasonable cost, which makes this report of their rumored interest worthy of attention.