(Photo: Brad Penner — USA Today Sports)
When the Mets report to spring training this month, Michael Conforto will be asked about his impending free agency after this season is over.
His status as an impending free agent creates a storyline for reporters to write about in spring training, and it will be a topic that will be talked about during the season. He may even be trade bait if the Mets struggle to be in the NL East race.
The Mets have not been in a rush to pay Conforto for the money he thinks he is going to get, and Conforto’s agent Scott Boras prefers to let his clients go out in the open market.
No doubt Conforto serves as a litmus test to see if new Mets owner Steve Cohen will pay up when it’s time. So far, Cohen failed to get an elite free agent of the ilk of J.T. Realmuto, George Springer and Trevor Bauer. Part of it was they did not want to play for the Mets with the idea they are not a World Series contender.
If Cohen can’t pay up to keep Conforto and Francisco Lindor, he will take a credibility hit after he was being hyped up as the Mets savior because of his net worth.
The 27-year-old outfielder knows this season presents great timing for him to get paid what he is worth. With him being in his walk year and the new Mets owner coming in with his billions, it makes so much sense to make the most of this opportunity.
Conforto earned his pay raise. Prior to last season when he hit nine home runs and knock in 31 runs in 54 games, he hit 27, 28 and 33 home runs and drove in 68, 82 and 92 runs respectively from 2016, 2017 and 2018. He is a player the Mets should continue to build around with Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith.
Some team could use him as a centerpiece, and he knows it, which is why he is not hesitant to be out in the market. Maybe a team like the Detroit Tigers or his hometown Seattle Mariners could use him as the finishing piece to their rebuild. Maybe the Washington Nationals or Philadelphia Phillies swipe him to make them better and the Mets weaker. Boras knows he can get his client whatever amount of money he gets in the open market.
Conforto can be a streaky hitter, but anyone can make a case with any hitter these days in a league that features players either hitting home runs or striking out. He is in good company.
The Mets can’t be scared off by that. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson understands so well about hitters going through ups and downs in a long season. Cohen also knows hitters like Conforto are hard to find.
Conforto being a homegrown Met makes it that much important to sign him to a lucrative deal. He developed quite nicely, and he has the makeup to play in New York, which is hard to do.
My gut feeling is the Mets and him will reach an agreement this offseason. Conforto wants to stay, and Cohen knows he can’t let a player like him walk. But there is nothing wrong with the Mets outfielder trying free agency. He earned that right by paying his dues as a Major Leaguer.
There could be a crazy possibility the Mets could trade him to replenish their barren farm system. Conforto could fetch many prospects in return. But it would not mean the Mets would not resign him. They can still do that, but it won’t be easy if he is enjoying the city of a contender he is playing with such as St. Louis for example.
This season seems ripe for the Mets outfielder to put on his best season. He will play a full season this year, and he will be in the lineup with Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith, so he will get his pitches. Plus, it always seems players put on their best years during their walk year.
Conforto gets to be a free agent only once. Twice if he is lucky. He knows he can’t pass up this opportunity. There is nothing like the experience of being wined and dined by teams. There is nothing like making a fanbase sweat whether he is going to return or not.
To be Conforto and control his own destiny.