Why Haniger considers Giants a perfect match in free agency

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants brought former infielder Rich Aurilia into town for their big presentation to Aaron Judge last month. It turns out they also could have brought him in to recruit their other big outfield target.

Mitch Haniger, who signed a three-year deal with his hometown team last week, said Monday he grew up rooting for Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Aurilia before transitioning to Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence when he was in college at Cal Poly.

Haniger will join a growing group of Northern California natives to suit up for the Giants under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler, but the local ties weren't the only thing to draw him in.

"They want to win," he said on a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. "When I met with Farhan and Gabe, it really seemed like they love their players and want to do what's best for their players and they want to get the maximum output and the maximum performance out of each guy. As far as strength and conditioning and recovery and all these different things that the Giants organization focuses on, everything just kind of felt right to me. 

"And obviously growing up in the Bay Area and being a Giants fan, it was always a dream to play for the Giants. I'm really thankful that they offered me and I had this opportunity. I couldn't be more excited to be a Giant."

The Giants are thrilled to have another Bay Area native on the roster, but for Haniger to reach his potential over the next three years, the key will be another part of that quote. Zaidi said last week that he was impressed with the questions Haniger asked about the training and support staff at Oracle Park and the Giants felt the outfielder was very in-tune with his body. 

Haniger has played more than 100 games just twice in six big league seasons, but the Giants are placing a big bet that they can help him stay healthy. Haniger hit 39 homers in 157 games in 2021 but made just 57 appearances last season. Still, the Giants gave him a three-year, $43.5 million deal to hit in the heart of their lineup.

"When you talk about health you're just not looking at how many injuries a guy has had, some of which are bad luck, but what kind of workload can a guy handle over a full season," Zaidi said. "You look at his 2018 season, his 2021 season, he has the ability to play a lot."

The Giants need Haniger to do that, and he said he's excited to work with the staff to find better ways to stay on the field. 

"I think I've had some bad luck and some fluke injuries," Haniger said. "I've tried to learn from them and tried to make sure I can do whatever I can to stay healthy and stay on the field and stay productive. For me, I've always felt like if I'm healthy I'm able to produce really well. The goal is to be one of the best outfielders in the game and I know I can be that as long as I can be healthy.

"When I was talking to a lot of other players that have recently played here, something that kept coming up was how great the support staff was, on the coaching staff as well as in the weight room and the training room. Everybody said that they'll have any recovery device you need, anything to help you stay on the field and get better. There were some players I talked to from other teams where that wasn't the case. For me, hearing that was huge."

Haniger got a firsthand look at the facilities last month when he drove up from Santa Cruz. A few weeks later, he had his deal, and he delighted Giants officials by immediately taking to Instagram and trying to recruit Judge

RELATED: Why Giants view Haniger as big piece to overhauled outfield

That pursuit fell short for the Giants, but they hope to add a marquee bat to a lineup that still needs more punch. Right now, Haniger and Pederson would make up the heart of the order, giving the Giants a truly homegrown combination. Haniger went to Archbishop Mitty, a private school located about 15 miles from Palo Alto, where Pederson was a star wide receiver and outfielder. 

Haniger was a year older and said he played again Pederson in football, but they missed out on a baseball matchup because Pederson was still participating in Palo Alto's basketball season when their schools faced off. The two will now be teammates, and a year after having three Bay Area natives in their Opening Day lineup, the Giants may now have four. Last year, Pederson joined Brandon Crawford and Logan Webb, both of whom were born in Mountain View. 

After signing Haniger last week -- and while Judge, from nearby Linden, was still making up his mind -- Zaidi said the Giants have had "really good experiences" with Northern California natives. In addition to Pederson, he pointed to J.D. Davis (Elk Grove) and Scott Alexander (Santa Rosa) as recent examples.

"It's not a marketing gimmick," Zaidi said. "We just think players being comfortable helps them succeed and perform well and we've seen it time and time again. These guys are all good players wherever they play, we just think that playing for us can help them get to another level because of that comfort."

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