It’s been a poorly timed down year at the plate for Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, who’ll reach free agency for the first time this winter. He’s begun to turn things around at the plate over the past five weeks or so, however, and Anthony DiComo of MLB.com writes that the team is “primed” to make a qualifying offer to Conforto — an offer he’s quite likely to reject, per DiComo.
MLBTR’s Anthony Franco wrote a month ago when previewing the qualifying offer market that Conforto was a likely recipient, even prior to his recent hot streak, so the notion of Conforto being tagged with that one-year offer in the $19M range isn’t necessarily a surprise in and of itself. Given Conforto’s age — he’ll turn 29 next March — and down season, some might have wondered whether there was a chance he’d accept the qualifying offer. Doing so would’ve come with the possibility of re-entering the market in advance of his age-30 season, in 2023, without draft compensation attached to his name and on the heels of a hopeful rebound effort.
As Anthony noted in that previously referenced qualifying offer preview, Conforto still seemed like a decent bet to land a long-term deal based solely on his age and track record. He’s been on a tear over the past month-plus, however, which only figures to increase the chances he’ll both receive and reject the offer.
Granted, Conforto’s .227/.344/.375 batting line isn’t much to look at (104 wRC+), but he’s walking at a strong 12.5 percent clip with similar exit velocity, launch angle and barrel rates to those he’s logged in recent, more-productive seasons. His 41.2 percent hard-hit rate is the second-best of his career, and Conforto has posted his best marks of the past five years in swinging-strike rate and contact rate this season. Last year’s mammoth .322/.412/.515 line in 54 games was a clear outlier (.412 BABIP), but Conforto’s batted-ball and K-BB profiles look quite similar to the hitter who posted a .257/.363/.492 line from 2017-19.
Beyond that, Conforto’s age shouldn’t be understated when looking at his qualifying offer candidacy. Few free agents reach the market prior to their age-30 seasons, and Conforto is particularly young when compared to the rest of the offseason outfield class. Kyle Schwarber is the only other everyday option who’ll play next season at 29. Nick Castellanos, who’s likely to opt out of the remaining two years on his contract with the Reds, will play next year at 30 years of age, but the bulk of the outfield class is a good bit older. Potential everyday options like Starling Marte (33 in 2021), Mark Canha (33) and Tommy Pham (34) are all four or more years older than Conforto.
Conforto is one of two possible qualifying offer candidates for the Mets this winter, with Noah Syndergaard standing as the only other plausible candidate. (Marcus Stroman cannot be issued a second qualifying offer, and Javier Baez is ineligible due to his midseason trade.) Syndergaard’s case isn’t as straightforward, as he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2019 due primarily to last year’s Tommy John surgery. There’s still a case to be made, based on his track record and upside (plus the Mets’ payroll capacity), that it’s a worthwhile gamble for the team to take, however.