Free agent outfielder Michael Conforto “is on [the Rockies’] list of possible free agents,” The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders hears from sources inside the Rox organization. Conforto joins Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber as prominent outfield-capable names Colorado has been linked to since the start of the offseason, as the Rockies were known to be looking for some more pop in the lineup.
The 2015-20 version of Conforto would certainly fit that description, as the former All-Star hit .259/.358/.484 with 118 homers over that six-season run with the Mets. Last year, however, Conforto was far less effective at the plate, hitting a modest .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers over 479 PA while also missing about five weeks of action due to a strained hamstring.
Apart from a dropoff in barrels and barrel rate, there wasn’t much difference in Conforto’s 2021 season from his 2015-20 seasons, from a Statcast perspective. His .322 wOBA was much lower than his above-average .350 xwOBA, so Conforto might have simply had a hard-luck season at the worst possible time as he was about to enter the free agent market.
A move to a more hitter-friendly ballpark like Coors Field might spark a revival in Conforto’s numbers, though it remains to be seen exactly what his down year will cost him on the open market. Saunders suggests that the Rockies would be open to inking Conforto to three or four years, yet it isn’t clear whether or not Conforto would necessarily want that type of longer commitment (at what would surely be less than top dollar) if he views 2021 as an aberration. MLBTR projected that Conforto would take just a one-year pillow contract in order to re-establish himself and then test free agency again next winter, and Saunders writes that some executives around baseball feel the outfielder might indeed take this path.
The other wrinkle involved in this scenario is the draft pick compensation attached to Conforto, since he rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer. If Conforto is only looking for a one-year deal, some teams may not be willing to give up a pick just for one season of his services — especially since the 2022 season now may be shortened due to the lockout. While Conforto’s former teammate Noah Syndergaard landed a one-year deal from the Angels despite also rejecting a QO, it can argued that Syndergaard’s scenario was different in many respects.
Syndergaard is coming off essentially two lost seasons due to Tommy John surgery and wasn’t in great position for a longer-term deal, and an Angels team desperate for pitching felt giving up the pick was a risk worth taking if Syndergaard can help them finally end their playoff drought. While the Rockies seemingly always think they’re closer to contention than they actually are, the club still faces a lot of competition within the NL West alone, to say nothing of the rest of the National League (even if more postseason spots are available).
Signing Conforto to a one-year deal and surrendering a draft pick in order to make a push in 2022 alone doesn’t seem too realistic, though the Rox might also feel they have something of a bonus pick to work with since Trevor Story is also a QO free agent. Since the Rockies are a team that receives revenue-sharing funds, their compensatory pick for Story would fall just after the draft’s first round, assuming Story signed for more than $50MM. Signing a QO free agent would cost Colorado its third-highest pick of the draft, for comparison’s sake.
The Rockies have plenty of room for Conforto in their outfield, as he could slot into either corner spot and even play center field in a pinch (though not on a consistent basis). An already-inconsistent Colorado lineup will now be losing Story, and the outfield has been seen as a natural spot to add a big bat to the mix. Charlie Blackmon will continue to get some time in right field, but could also get some DH time to accommodate Conforto if he is moved between both corner spots.
Over a dozen teams had some initial interest in Conforto at the start of the offseason, though only the Marlins and now the Rockies are the only known teams linked to the 29-year-old. It isn’t clear whether or not Miami could still be in the running, as the Fish already signed Avisail Garcia, and recent reports (and the sudden departure of Derek Jeter from the organization) have hinted that the club might not be willing to spend much more in the wake of the lockout.