Will the Red Sox make a splash before Opening Day? As part of our “free agency fits” series, we’re examining whether several top players remaining on the open market make sense (or don’t make sense) as Boston builds its roster for the 2022 Major League Baseball season.
Michael Conforto is an interesting free agency case, in that he doesn’t carry the same name recognition as some of the top players available this offseason and is coming off a lackluster 2021 that undoubtedly will impact his earning power.
But could that reality — a potentially subdued market — make him a wise investment, with a team able to extract real value over the life of his next contract? It sure seems possible.
After all, Conforto, a first-round pick in 2014, had some productive seasons over the course of his seven-year tenure with the New York Mets. He even was an All-Star in 2017.
The difficulty, of course, is determining which version of Conforto to expect moving forward, and the Red Sox, in particular, have to weigh whether he fits their current roster construction.
Age: 28 (March 1, 1993)
Weight: 215 pounds
125 games (479 plate appearances)
14 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB
0.8 bWAR, 0.8 fWAR
757 games (2,980 plate appearances)
132 HR, 396 RBI, 18 SB
15.7 bWAR, 16.9 fWAR
Why Conforto makes sense for Red Sox:
The Red Sox need another outfielder, and Conforto, who turns 29 on March 1, carries enough upside to make him an intriguing alternative to the more recognizable, pricier options available on the open market. He ultimately could prove to be a savvy addition for whichever team signs him.
Conforto struggled for most of 2021, but consider his numbers from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season: nine home runs, 31 RBIs and a .322/.412/.515 slash line in 54 games (233 plate appearances). He ranked 11th in the majors in wRC+ (158) and 20th in fWAR (2.1).
Now, consider Conforto’s three-year average from 2017 to 2019: 29 homers, 81 RBIs and a .257/.363/.492 slash line across 138 games (575 plate appearances).
Conforto ranked 13th in fWAR (11.2) among MLB outfielders during that stretch, sandwiched between Lorenzo Cain (11.4) and Whit Merrifield (10.8). He ranked 14th in wRC+ (129).
Is Conforto elite? No. But that level of production will play in any lineup. He’s a good hitter, and his track record is extensive enough to argue his subpar 2021 was an outlier and that a bounce-back is in order.
Conforto has experience in all three outfield spots, with most of his time coming in right field over the past few seasons. He’s an average defender, so the Red Sox wouldn’t have to worry about navigating around a total liability out on the grass.
Why Conforto doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
Conforto is redundant. The Red Sox already have three left-handed-hitting outfielders — Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jarren Duran — in addition to the right-handed-hitting Kiké Hernández, who could be redeployed at second base on a more consistent basis if Boston adds to its mix on the lawn.
As such, the Red Sox’s interest in Conforto — a passable defender who might have some trouble patrolling Fenway Park’s quirky right field — probably depends solely on the price point and whether Chaim Bloom and Co. see an opportunity to really capitalize on a depressed market.
Conforto, in theory, could settle for a one-year deal this offseason in the hopes of reestablishing his value in 2022 before reentering free agency next winter. Even then, with Conforto rejecting a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Mets, he’ll presumably look to exceed that payday. And it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox meeting that asking price, especially since whichever team signs Conforto will need to surrender draft-pick compensation in wake of him declining his qualifying offer.
Also, what if Conforto doesn’t rebound in 2022? While he’ll likely improve upon 2021, it’s worth noting MLB’s new baseballs did impact some players more than others. And Conforto’s underlying metrics last season — 35th percentile in average exit velocity and 39th percentile in hard-hit percentage, per Baseball Savant — don’t paint the rosiest picture.
Verdict: Not a fit.
Prediction: Conforto signs with the Chicago White Sox.