Following a mostly productive seven-year stretch in New York, 28-year-old outfielder Michael Conforto is officially a free agent.
The Mets have until Sunday at 4 p.m. CT to extend the Oregon State alum an $18.4 million qualifying offer for the 2022 season (expected), though it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Conforto will accept.
Most reports have the left-handed slugger and his representation, super-agent Scott Boras, testing the open market. Though, presuming a hefty pay increase and multiyear deal following what was undoubtedly Conforto’s career low point would be a gamble, no doubt.
The dilemma Scooter & Co. (yes, that’s his nickname; no, I didn’t come up with it) will likely be facing is whether to take the security of a multiyear deal this offseason despite its monetary volume being considerably less following his downturn, or to take the QO, bet on himself staying on the right track, and cashing in next offseason.
After bursting on the scene in 2015, hitting .270/.335/.506 over his first 56 MLB games (with a two-homer game in the World Series that year, to boot), Conforto’s effectiveness waned in 2016 before his breakout the following season.
Over 109 games in 2017, Conforto hit .279/.384/.555 with 27 homers and 4.4 fWAR, garnering his first and only All-Star nod before his season was cut short by a torn shoulder capsule, necessitating major surgery and severely hindering his offseason.
With a publicly stated target of a May 2018 return (via Mets GM Sandy Alderson), Conforto shocked the tri-state area with a return to action for New York’s opening series in Washington that April, cranking an opposite-field homer in his first game back.
He struggled for a while — regaining timing after a lengthy layoff is no easy task — but by the end of the season, Conforto was back to himself (.710 OPS in first half, .895 in second half).
From there, Scooter surged. From 2019 through the COVID-shortened 2020 season (205 games), Michael Conforto hit .274/.376/.499 with 42 home runs and 135 wRC+ (17th in MLB over that span). Yup. That’ll work.
Heading into 2021, a possible long-term contract extension for Conforto was being discussed heavily by fans and media, alike. No traction was made, and both sides headed into the season looking to see where it led.
In hindsight, that was a misstep. Conforto could have easily landed a four-year extension worth $20 million per season, in this writer’s humble opinion. That’s all the security you’d need, right there.
Naturally, Conforto faltered. And it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill slump. This was unlike anything anyone who’d watched Conforto play had seen before. Guessing, flailing, looking lost more often than not. This was not Scooter.
Around the midway point of the season, he admitted that he may have been overthinking things, and the trek out of hell began in earnest. By the end of the season, minus some power, Conforto was Conforto again, hitting.
His .232/.344/.384 slash line heading into free agency certainly won’t do him any favors, but if you dig a little deeper, Conforto’s value is more than evident. If anything, his subpar 2021 will only relieve some of the cost associated with securing his services.
The Sox could certainly use a competent, capable, defensively above-average outfielder. Conforto’s outfield defense — normally solid with +16 OAA over his first four seasons — took a nosedive in 2020 (-5 OAA in right field) but leveled off in 2021 (+1 OAA, RF). And with a lengthy track record proving his worth at the plate, the South Side could be a perfect fit.
Adam Eaton certainly wasn’t the answer in right field. Adam Engel is an exciting player and in the fold until 2024, so the need isn’t glaring. But, to my knowledge, there’s never been a team who complained about having too many good players.
With a qualifying offer likely attached to him, any team signing him would give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 in international signing pool money to do so, so there are caveats.
In any case, it should be an interesting market for Conforto. Only GMs willing to sit at the high-stakes table need apply.