Michael Conforto is the top free agent remaining on the market and the lone qualifying offer recipient who remains unsigned. We’re now less than two weeks from Opening Day, and it’s still difficult to glean just where Conforto might sign. And, as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out, Conforto will have a hard time following the path of some other QO recipients who waited things out and took a midseason deal. Dallas Keuchel, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, for instance, all waited to sign until after the draft had passed, thus freeing them from the burden of draft-pick compensation. That tactic already caused a player to sit out two months of the season, but with the draft now pushed back to mid-July, it’s an even less palatable approach for Conforto to take.
There’s been some talk of a potential reunion with his old team, but Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reported yesterday evening that returning to the Mets is “extremely unlikely,” citing multiple sources close to the situation. With Starling Marte and Mark Canha joining Brandon Nimmo in the outfield, plus holdover infield/outfield bats like Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis still in the fold, at-bats for Conforto would be hard to come by — even with the designated hitter now in the National League.
Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, meanwhile, writes that the Blue Jays have “checked in” on Conforto, though perhaps only as a means of due diligence. The Jays have been looking for left-handed hitting to help balance a right-leaning lineup, and yesterday’s trade with the Rockies, swapping outfielders Randal Grichuk and Raimel Tapia, was a step toward that end. There’s arguably still a fit for Conforto in Toronto, as the Jays could cycle him, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez through the outfield and designated hitter spots in the lineup. However, GM Ross Atkins also threw some cold water on the idea of another big-ticket addition, telling reporters yesterday that it’s “getting harder for us to continue to add from a resource standpoint and from a flexibility standpoint” (Twitter link via TSN’s Scott Mitchell).
The Guardians have been an oft-cited fit for Conforto, due both to the team’s paltry $56MM payroll and a generally unproven mix of outfield options. General manager Mike Chernoff didn’t comment directly on Conforto or any other free agents this morning, but did say in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that the front office is prioritizing its young players (Twitter link, with audio).
“One of the big challenges for us has been, how do we make sure we’re creating opportunities for those guys and not taking opportunity?” said Chernoff. “Not just signing a veteran guy that’s going to eat into some of the playing time that allows these guys to get their feet underneath them in the big leagues.”
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman suggests a new suitor in his latest podcast (Conforto talk around the 41-minute mark), calling the Rangers perhaps the likeliest team to jump on Conforto. Texas has already forfeited a second-round and third-round selection in order to sign Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, meaning the draft-pick cost of signing Conforto would be down to a fourth-rounder for them. That, however, would still run counter to prior reports on the Rangers’ spending plans; Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported shortly after the lockout lifted that Texas viewed Matt Olson and Clayton Kershaw (both of whom they pursued but were unable to acquire) as special cases but otherwise did not plan to plan to spend significantly.