Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wednesday that he does not expect Michael Conforto to return from the disabled list until around May 1.
"Everything's going as planned," Alderson explained. "There's been no setbacks," however, "Right now, I don't expect him to be ready for opening day."
Conforto had season-ending surgery last summer to repair the posterior capsule in his right shoulder. The initial diagnosis was that it would require at least a six-month recovery.
Alderson is taking the right approach in lowering expectations. I've been consistently told by team insiders since last October that it will be impossible to project Conforto's return until he can be evaluated in St. Lucie and begins ramping up his rehab program.
Unfortunately, there is no precedent to lean on for a position player of Conforto's age having this specific, intense shoulder surgery. So, speculating on his return will always be incomplete until he's seen in uniform, swinging and remaining strong.
"It's tough to put a timeline on these kinds of things," Conforto told SNY earlier this offseason. "It's a long season, so if I happen to miss a couple of games here and there that's not the end of the world. I want to be playing in October, hopefully."
Conforto, who made the All Star team last year for the first time in his career, had been hitting .279 with a .384 OBP, .555 slugging, 27 home runs and 68 RBI in 109 games before injuring his shoulder.
The buzzwords for Conforto in camp this spring will be "strength," and, "stability." Right now, Conforto is working to build muscle and regain range of motion. In camp, toward the end February and early March, he should be able to start going full speed. The fear will be in the field, specifically diving head first or doing anything that might jam his arm in to his shoulder and potentially do additional damage.
This is probably why team insiders have long speculated that Conforto would need consistent, strategic time off regardless of when he returns from the disabled list. It is going to be very important that manager Mickey Callaway and the team's training and medical staff do everything they can to keep Conforto's shoulder from becoming weak. Because, like a pitcher's elbow, when weak, the shoulder is more likely susceptible to injury.
As a result, I expect Conforto to frequently be pulled late in games and/or get multiple days off each week during his first month or two of action. I also wonder if he's less likely to start his season in center field. And, if that's the case, how does that impact Jay Bruce and the situation at first base?
"I just want him to get healthy," Bruce said Wednesday about Conforto, who he has continued to talk with during the winter. "I want him to take his time and get healthy and when he comes back be able to be the asset he can be and was last year."
The point is, Conforto's return will not be a straight line. He's not going to go from the disabled list right back to being an All Star, ideal number three hitter. Instead, the trajectory will be bumpy, playing time will sporadic and speculative, and his recovery may be unprecedented and confusing. Eventually, though, if handled correctly, he will return to being the organization's next great hitter...
I wrote this earlier this week, but it's worth repeating here after writing all of the above: This is why hiring Jim Cavallini as the team's new Director of High Performance is so important. Cavallini will organize the entire medical department, including short-term and long-term training programs, nutrition, rehabilitation, kinesiology, mental toughness, and "sports science services."
Cavallini will not travel with the team, but instead remain at Citi Field examining information about the overall health of the roster. Therefore, unlike in previous seasons when they left it up to eyeballs, trust, and fate, the Mets now have someone always on the clock, back home, looking at medical reports, trends, matchups, playing time, and stats to help determine when guys like Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes should play or not play.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...