The Padres expressed interest in free agent outfielder Michael Conforto prior to the MLB lockout, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Padres join a growing list of known teams to have reached out to the longtime Met’s camp, including the Yankees, who were reported to have interest earlier today.
Conforto is the latest player in a long line of free agent left field fielders the Padres have looked into. Reports from earlier in the offseason have connected San Diego to a number of offensively-gifted outfielders to bolster their lineup, including Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, and Seiya Suzuki. The interest in Conforto and other top outfielders stems from the departure of incumbent left fielder Tommy Pham, himself a candidate to be re-signed by the club via free agency.
Replacing Pham with Conforto may not deliver the jolt to a disappointing San Diego offense that fans expect, however. In 2021 Conforto slashed an uncharacteristically middling .232/.344/.384 with a 101 OPS+, not far off from a post-injury Pham’s .229/.340/.383 and 103 OPS+ output. Considering both players dealt with injuries and seemingly underperformed their batted ball metrics, it’s possible the Padres may simply find more bounce-back appeal (and, potentially, contract value) in the 29-year-old over the more senior Pham, who just turned 34-years-old.
Whether the Padres and their growingly-thin farm system should take a risk on Conforto is up for debate, as the Boras client rejected a qualifying offer en route to free agency and will cost his new team a draft pick and international bonus pool money. Still, the upside Conforto— a career .255/.356/.468 (124 OPS+) hitter— possesses is undeniable, and a likely upgrade over any current in-house options.
With plenty of offseason (remarkably) left to go in March, San Diego’s projected lineup still has room to change. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that RosterResource currently has non-roster invitee Nomar Mazara penciled into left field, a risky proposition for a team looking to take on their two 100+ win division rivals.
Acee notes that the Friars have roughly $15MM left to spend before hitting the new luxury tax threshold, and potentially more given the team’s willingness to surpass that threshold last season. Even if the club is hesitant to pass the threshold in consecutive seasons it’s still possible a long-term deal can be worked out with Conforto, owing to the likely departure of the well-compensated Wil Myers after the 2022 season. Efforts to move Eric Hosmer’s remaining salary persist as well, which would only further serve president of baseball operations AJ Preller’s penchant for big moves.
With this in mind, team officials have told Acee that the club “is in position to spend for an offensive upgrade”. Whether Conforto is atop Preller’s shopping list remains to be seen, but it’s clear based on this report that the Padres will be a team to watch in the coming days.