Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Mets outfielder Michael Conforto enters the 2020 season at 27 years old in what is his second-to-last year of arbitration. If an extension isn't reached before the end of the 2021 season, Conforto will be a free agent. And the Mets shouldn't let things get to that point.
Conforto, whose breakout season in 2017 (.279/.384/.555) ended after 109 games due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and negatively impacted his start to the 2018 season, has been tagged as "too streaky" by some and seemingly disappointed others who think his career batting average (a stat that doesn't matter nearly as much as it used to) is too low.
While the "streakiness" thing is debatable since every hitter is streaky to an extent (scope out Mike Trout and Christian Yelich's month-by-month breakdowns), here's what we know Conforto is:
A career .253/.353/.481 hitter who averages 31 homers per 162 games and seems primed for a total breakout in 2020.
A look at Conforto's advanced stats show that he was near the top of the league in xwOBA and xSLG last season. When it came to where he ranked among National League outfielders in 2019, Conforto was No. 9 in both WAR and OPS.
Along with being one of the best outfielders in the league, Conforto is open to signing an extension before he hits free agency -- something he went into detail about last spring training and has recently reiterated.
"I see myself as a long-term fixture in this program," Conforto told Newsday's Anthony Rieber in March of 2019. "Brodie (Van Wagenen) said he feels the same way. Obviously, I don't know what's going to happen down the road in a couple years, but I would love to stay here long-term. I love it here. I love playing in New York. I feel like I'm going to be a person that's going to be in this organization for a long time."
Yes, Scott Boras is Conforto's agent. But the belief that Boras clients hardly ever extend is just not true. Some examples of Boras clients signing extensions before hitting free agency include Jose Altuve, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Gonzalez, and Mike Moustakas.
And while speaking last spring about potentially extending with the Mets, Conforto made it clear that Boras works for him -- not the other way around.
We've already gone over how good Conforto is, which is obviously one of the reasons the Mets should lock him up. Here are three more reasons...
The Mets' outfield situation is in flux
Yoenis Cespedes comes off the books after this season (more on that below) and J.D. Davis' future position is uncertain despite the fact that he's expected to be the Mets' starting left fielder this season. Brandon Nimmo is currently the center fielder (though he doesn't profile there) and Jeff McNeil could always shift back to the outfield even though he probably belongs on the infield somewhere.
Then there's Conforto, a right fielder who actually profiles well in right field, and who has been a constant for the Mets for the better part of the last five seasons.
Without Conforto, the Mets' outfield situation could get awfully messy.
There are no outfielders coming any time soon from the pipeline
If you take a quick look at the Mets' farm system, you'll see that they don't have any outfielders among either their highest-touted prospects or among those who could be ready to be starting players in the majors any time soon.
Their best outfield prospects are recent international signings Freddy Valdez, Alexander Ramirez, and Adrian Hernandez, who are 18 years old, 17 years old, and 19 years old, respectively.
Beyond those three international signings, there are only two other outfielders among the Mets' top-30 prospects: Jake Mangum, who could rise quickly but might profile as a fourth outfielder, and Desmond Lindsay, who has had mixed results in the minors since being selected in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
Tons of money is about to come off the books
The Mets are brushing up against the $208 million luxury tax threshold right now, but their payroll situation clears up significantly in 2021 and beyond.
As things currently stand, the Mets have only $73 million committed to the payroll for the 2021 season. Among those set to come off the books after 2020 are Yoenis Cespedes, Jed Lowrie, and Marcus Stroman.
There will be a significant amount of money added to that $73 million through arbitration raises, and the Mets will likely have some serious needs to fill next offseason (catcher and the starting rotation among them). But the flexibility is there to extend Conforto and potentially others and have that money fit easily in their budget.
Complicating things a bit when it comes to big moves -- including extensions -- could be the unsettled ownership situation. But for now, the team remains in the same hands and under the same GM and front office. And one would think that a prospective owner would view a locked up Conforto as an asset, not a hindrance.
What it could cost to extend Conforto remains to be seen, but the Mets should do their best to get it done.