The Curious Case of Michael Conforto
Kudos to Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons on retaining the services of one Yoenis Cespedes. At “only” $110 million for four years, the deal has a chance to not be too terrible, or at least only terrible for a season or so. While Cespedes isn’t the ideal major league player, he fits with the Mets well.
Like perhaps many of you, I felt a shudder run through me when I read about the potential for Cespedes to pull in a 6 or 7 year deal, with an upwards of $150 million price tag. So, good job by the Mets to get this done at a rate that won’t leave Cespedes a baseball pauper (and may allow him to get one more lucrative contract before he retires), but doesn’t hamstring the team’s finances in the process. The fact that the deal was done before the calendar flips to December also gives the Mets the bulk of the remaining off-season to fill the other issues with their roster.
That however is where it gets tricky. The Mets still have a few holes to fill and they most likely will need to fill them in exchange for assets they already possess. In the past, Alderson has steadfastly refused to part with any of his young pitching (at least during the winter), so it is unlikely that he does so again this year. Injuries to several of those pitchers has more than likely lowered their value, making it even less probable that Alderson deals one of them.
Jay Bruce is probably a lock to be moved and soon, but I would be utterly shocked if The Mets received anything in return that resembled a missing piece to their 2017 puzzle, especially if they want their trading partner to pick up all of Bruce’s remaining salary. Curtis Granderson may garner some interest, but can you really see them trading away baseball’s 2016 Man of The Year? Me neither.
Which brings us to Mr. Conforto. Taken with the 10th pick of the June 2014 draft, he zoomed through the Mets system and was playing left field in the majors barely 13 months later. In fact, when the Mets dealt for Cespedes less than a week after Conforto’s arrival, they kept Conforto in left and moved Cespedes to center. Michael enjoyed a solid rookie season, slashing 270/335/506. He tailed off a bit in the NLDS and NLCS, but carried himself well in the World Series, hitting pair of homers. He began 2016 as the starting leftfielder (Cespedes stayed in center), but after a hot April, he just seemed to lose it. He hit .173 from May 1 on with a .255 OBP and was twice sent to AAA Las Vegas. The Mets left him off the roster for the Wild Card Game.
Hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, but the optics indicate a vulnerability to inside sliders, which was all he got a steady diet of from late April on. Those pitches don’t break in the hot, dry desert air the way they do at the major league level, he so while he put up video-game like numbers back in Vegas, he just struggled again upon his return to New York. It wasn’t exactly doing him any good to send him down, but they really had no other choice.
Conforto is a left fielder, pure and simple. He doesn’t run all that well and his throwing arm isn’t anything extraordinary. If he doesn’t hit, he isn’t even a replacement-level player. Last year, he didn’t hit. And with Cespedes locked up in left field until 2020, Conforto doesn’t really have a place to play. The Mets could stand an upgrade in center field, probably behind the plate and most definitely in late inning relief. Their lineup lacks speed. Could a trade of Conforto help fill at least two of those holes? If I’m Alderson, I’d be exploring that possibility.
On the plus side, Conforto is still young and has a great pedigree, both as a top draft pick as well as being the son of two elite athletes. He honed his craft at Oregon State, in a program that has produced over two dozen major league players. He has had some success at the major league level, and represents (on paper at least) a left-handed source of power, an desirable commodity that is in short supply right now. He also has five more seasons of team control. There is still a lot to like about him. Both the Mets and any potential trading partners will need to gamble on the veracity of his pedigree and 2015 performance vs. the reality that was his 2016 campaign. It could be a very interesting situation. A package of Conforto, one of the Mets surplus middle infielders and a lower-level arm might net a big fish in return.
Also, it wouldn’t be a Capwell Mets Today post without a little Mets history: back in the early 1970’s the Mets had a young outfielder whom they had drafted in 1967 and who was also (relative for that time) rushed to the big leagues. After a promising rookie campaign, he took a step backwards in his sophomore season, although his fall was not as dramatic as Conforto’s. That offseason, the Mets packaged him with other prospects in a big trade with the Montreal Expos for an established slugger. That young outfielder was named Ken Singleton and over the next 13 years he would average 282/388/436, and be named to three All Star teams. While his old team was floundering, he flourished away from Shea, finishing third in AL MVP voting in 1977 and then second in 1979 (The Expos traded him to Baltimore a year after getting him). The 1973 Mets were a win-now team and Rusty Staub, the player they got for Singleton and Co., did help them get to the World Series. So much time has passed since that it is difficult to gauge which was the better deal, the 1973 pennant or Singleton’s career, although in fairness, Singleton out-hit Staub in 1973. That deal, along with the rise of both Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan, also former Met farmhands, made the then nascent Mets fan me a “systems guy,” a strong proponent of building a team from within. 40-plus years later, I am more of a “win now” guy, probably due to the passage of time. On the flip side of the argument is Hubie Brooks, whom the Mets also traded after his sophomore season in a package for another Expos slugger. Even though Hubie would outhit the player the Mets acquired him for from the point of the trade until both had retired, this move proved to be the final piece in the Mets quest for a World Championship. The player the Mets got in return was Gary Carter.
So for me, it boils down to this: I favor a trade of Conforto if the return makes the team demonstrably better in 2017. If not, I guess I can live with Conforto in right and a Granderson/Juan Lagares platoon in center. I really hate the idea of playing Conforto in center. I am not too crazy about him in right either, but if he can rediscover his stroke, any defensive gaffs could probably be overlooked.
So what about you? Trade Conforto or keep him? Prefer him in center or in right? Remember Ken Singleton? Sound off below.