Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is now a week away, yet one of CBS Sports’ top 50 free agents remains unsigned. Former New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, ranked No. 23 entering the offseason, might begin the season on the open market, too.
On Wednesday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that Conforto landed “irregularly” on his shoulder during a January workout. Conforto, per Rosenthal, wanted to heal to 100 percent before engaging in serious contract negotiations. He’s since reached his desired status, thereby allowing agent Scott Boras to get to work on finding him a home, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
“There is a great deal of interest in this guy,” Boras told Sherman. “We are really just starting the [negotiating] process now that he is swinging normal. … He wanted to have his normal swing plane [before serious negotiations]. Now, he is able to illustrate that with impressive workouts.”
It’s a given that Conforto, an All-Star in 2017 who declined the Mets’ qualifying offer to open the offseason, will not be on someone’s Opening Day roster. That means Conforto will not have a regular spring training to shake off the winter’s rust. To make matters worse, declining the Mets’ tender means that whatever team signs him will have to give up draft-pick compensation in exchange for obtaining his services.
In the past, free agents could duck around compensation by waiting until after the draft to sign. Conforto could theoretically do the same, but MLB‘s decision to push the draft back nearly a month would leave him signing after the All-Star Break, thus increasing his layoff period and diminishing the value he could add to a team.
When, precisely, Conforto signs might be of less interest to folks than where he might sign. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight five potential landing spots for the last notable free agent standing. (As always, this is for entertainment purposes only.) First, here’s a reminder of what we wrote about Conforto entering the offseason:
There may not be a good time for a player to have an underwhelming season, but there is a bad time. Conforto learned that lesson the hard way by hitting .202/.341/.298 in the first half of his walk year. Though he rebounded to an extent in the second half (.252/.347/.445), his chances of cashing in this winter were already dashed.
Now, onto the gasbaggery.
The Giants have already added one left-handed-hitting outfielder in recent weeks, in former Atlanta Brave Joc Pederson. The addition of the universal DH would allow the Giants to make room in their most-days lineup for Conforto as well. The Giants lost Buster Posey to retirement and Kris Bryant to free agency, meaning they could stand to add thump to their lineup if they want to repeat as National League West champs.
A.J. Preller has had an uncharacteristically quiet offseason. Signing Conforto to serve as the Padres’ most-days left fielder (usurping Jurickson Profar in the process) would change that, and, more importantly, would boost San Diego’s offensive potency. The Padres haven’t been able to move either Wil Myers‘ or Eric Hosmer‘s contracts this winter, however, and that might continue to serve as a roadblock for Preller.
The Blue Jays’ projected lineup features eight right-handed hitters. (The exception being second baseman Cavan Biggio.) Toronto, then, could use a lefty swinger like Conforto to protect against potential platoon issues. A potential snag in the Blue Jays’ pursuit of Conforto (and, really, any other player) is Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. It’s unknown if Conforto is vaccinated (the Mets as a team had a poor vaccination percentage, per The Athletic); if not, he would be the latest in a line of players who the Blue Jays couldn’t pursue because of their inoculation status.
The Rangers made several splashes before the owner-imposed lockout, signing both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to remake their middle infield. It’s fair to write the Rangers didn’t win as many headlines for their outfield additions, as they settled for Kole Calhoun and journeyman Brad Miller. Add in Willie Calhoun, and the Rangers might already have their fill of left-handed hitters. Still, Conforto would likely represent an upgrade and would allow them to shift Miller into a utility role.
The Yankees were known to have checked in on Conforto during the offseason. They wouldn’t appear to be a fit for him at this stage, as they have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo occupying their corner-outfield and DH slots. That said, it takes only one prolonged injury to alter the calculus.