John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE -- Upon hearing that Christian Yelich was closing in on a nine-year, $215 million contract extension with the Brewers, as first reported by The Athletic, it was only natural to think a similar deal at a slightly lower cost might make sense for the Mets and Michael Conforto.
After all, like Yelich, Conforto is two years away from free agency, yet there is no indication that he or the ballclub is thinking in terms of an extension.
And though the Mets' right fielder doesn't say it in so many words, I got the sense from talking to him on Wednesday that he thinks he'd be selling low if he were to enter into a long-term deal right now, when he believes he can put himself in Yelich's category -- or something close to it -- by playing to his full potential.
In fact, when I asked him if he could make the type of jump to superstardom that Yelich did the last couple of seasons in Milwaukee, Conforto didn't hesitate.
"I don't see any reason why not," he said. "I've been that player before, in 2017. Maybe not to the MVP caliber he is, but I felt like I was getting close to that before I got hurt. And I believe I'll be that guy again."
Yes, Conforto was having his best season when he tore the posterior capsule in his left shoulder on Aug. 24, 2017, with 27 home runs, a .555 slugging percentage, and a .939 OPS at the time.
"I was 24 years old at the time and I felt like I was just scratching the surface," Conforto said. "That's the kind of player I think I am, as opposed to the last couple of years, when I've done some great things but I don't feel like I've had that same type of full season."
All of which makes Conforto wonder about a residual effect from the surgery he underwent to repair the shoulder capsule.
"It may have been a factor in some shape or form," he said, "but I think there are a million things that go into it. I wouldn't use that as an excuse. I would just say maybe I should have taken a little bit more time in 2018.
"But more than anything I think I have more in the tank, and I need to do the things to make sure I use all of it."
Conforto had a very good 2019, hitting .256 with 33 home runs, but his .444 slugging percentage and .856 OPS were a notch below his 2017 levels. He feels getting back there is a matter of taking full advantage of plate discipline and ability to hit the ball to all fields.
In that sense, Yelich is an intriguing comparison. Through his age-25 season, he'd put up good numbers but nothing close to what he's done the last two years since being traded from the Marlins to the Brewers, as he won the NL MVP in 2018 and finished runner-up last year.
Scouts believe some of that was the result of moving to a more hitter-friendly ballpark, where Yelich didn't have to try to muscle up to hit the long ball. But some of it may have come from simply maturing as a hitter, something Conforto believes is still a step for him to take.
He just turned 27 this week, and if the shoulder injury set him back a year or so, you can make the case he's at about the same stage where Yelich made his big leap.
Certainly, Conforto has definite ideas about how he can do the same.
"I just think I need to be a tougher out," he said. "There were times when I didn't have productive at-bats last year. I wasn't forcing pitchers to throw strikes. That's something I did in 2017.
"It's possible I got caught up in hitting home runs at times. It's an easy thing to slip into. But it also becomes something that you train into your swing: How are you hitting the cage? How are you hitting in BP? If you're only training for that home run, that's going to show up in the games.
"So I'm working on creating better habits, being in a better position to use the whole field on a wider variety of pitches."
Conforto said he's "locked in" on that revised approach, thinking only of the 2020 season for now. He'll make $8 million this season via arbitration, and he's quick to point out that's an awful lot of money.
Yet free agency is not far down the road, and as with most Scott Boras clients, there is a presumption that Conforto would prefer to reach the market rather than sign an extension.
He sure isn't tipping his hand, but at least for now, he indicated he'd only be amenable to an extension if they were on his terms.
"At this point I'm just looking at being excited about this season," he said. "It would be nice to have the future set but it's gotta make sense for me to do that. Maybe the conversation gets a little different next year but right now I'm just locked in on 2020.
"Those are big decisions and it can become a distraction. If I go out there and play the way I'm capable of, everything will take care of itself. Scott's got my best interests in mind but at the end of the day it's my decision."
All of which sounded like Conforto is willing to bet on himself, whatever the Mets' thoughts about an extension might be, believing his best is still to come.
Conforto's Sweet Swing
Keith Hernandez has famously swooned at the sight of Michael Conforto's stylish swing since seeing it in 2015, but if you think he was the first person to go ga-ga over it, well, perhaps on TV, yes.
But the first ever? Conforto was all of eight years old when that happened.
"It was my first Little League tryout," Conforto recalled with a laugh. "Someone who was working the pitching machine. I was miserable because I fouled everything off. But the guy came up to me and said, 'You have the most beautiful swing here. Just keep doing what you're doing."
And it turns out it was no accident for the kid who grew up in the Seattle area.
"I was trying to look like Ken Griffey (Jr.), for sure," he said. "I was too young to see him when he was playing in Seattle, but my dad watched him there and when I was young he told me, 'You're a left-handed hitter, you should try and swing like this guy.'
"So I did."