MLBTR Poll: Predicting Michael Conforto’s Contract
Whenever teams are again permitted to make major league transactions, clubs in search of corner outfield help will have to sort through a still-strong class. Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Seiya Suzuki are unsigned, as is third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant. All those players seem in line for significant multi-year contracts, but it’s not as clear whether that’ll be the case for Michael Conforto.
Conforto looked to be on the path to a huge deal after hitting .265/.369/.495 (133 wRC+) between 2017-20. Set to hit free agency in advance of his age-29 campaign, a nine-figure contract didn’t seem out of the question at the start of last season. Yet Conforto went to post his worst results since 2016, a .232/.344/.384 mark with 14 home runs over 479 plate appearances.
That offensive output was still six percentage points better than the league average, by measure of wRC+. The former tenth overall pick walked in a robust 12.3% of his trips to the dish to keep his on-base percentage at a respectable level. He played his home games in Citi Field, one of the more pitcher-friendly environments around the league. Yet for a player limited to the corner outfield, a 106 wRC+ is more fine than especially impressive.
Teams will have to determine how to weigh Conforto’s platform year against his prior four-year run of strong play. From a process perspective, there are some reasons for optimism. Last season’s 21.7% strikeout rate was a personal low, a couple points lower than the league mark. As mentioned, his plate discipline remained strong. His rates of hard contact and barrels (essentially hard-hit batted balls at the optimal angle for power production) were down a tick from his best years but still above-average. It wouldn’t be surprising if Conforto rights the ship moving forward, particularly if he signs with a club that plays in a more hitter-favorable setting.
So Conforto should still be an appealing free agent target, but he’s coming off a much worse platform year than both Castellanos and Schwarber. A long-term investment in Conforto probably feels riskier to teams now than it would’ve eight months ago. And any signing club will have to forfeit a draft pick, since the Washington native received and rejected a qualifying offer from the Mets.
There wasn’t much indication as to where Conforto might end up prior to the lockout. The Marlins were the only club known to have substantive interest. Miami already signed Avisaíl García, but they’re reportedly still on the hunt for an addition in the grass. Beyond the Fish, the clubs reaching out to Conforto’s representatives at the Boras Corporation remain a mystery. So that doesn’t offer much indication about how robust the market might be.
Nor is it clear how much money Conforto and his reps are seeking. Schwarber, though, is reportedly looking for a three-year deal in the $60MM range. The two players were born just five days apart in March 1993, and they’ve been similarly productive since the start of 2019. But with Schwarber coming off the much better platform year, it seems likely he’ll land the larger guarantee of the two whenever they both put pen to paper.
Entering the offseason, MLBTR projected Conforto would sign a one-year deal in the $20MM range in hopes of a bounceback season before re-testing the market after 2022. That could be a possibility, although his decision to turn down New York’s $18.4MM qualifying offer suggests he wanted to explore multi-year opportunities (or at least loftier single-year proposals) from suitors around the league.
Where does the MLBTR readership expect Conforto’s contract to end up?