On MLBTR’s list of top 50 free agents for this past offseason, 49 of them eventually reached deals, with outfielder Michael Conforto being the lone exception. It was later revealed that the reason he hadn’t signed was that he suffered a shoulder injury during the lockout, which would eventually require season-ending surgery.
Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, later walked that “season-ending” descriptor back in May, saying that there was a chance that Conforto could return late in the season. While that opened up the possibility of some team signing an injured Conforto and hoping for him to recuperate ahead of schedule, it was never going to happen prior to the draft since Conforto turned down a qualifying offer from the Mets. Taking a risk on Conforto might have some appeal, but not so much that any team would forfeit a meaningful draft pick for the pleasure.
Now that the draft has been completed, that has become a moot point. Signing Conforto is no longer connected to any kind of forfeiture of draft picks or bonus pool money. Naturally, Conforto is now garnering more interest, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Heyman speaks to Boras, who says that he got four phone calls about Conforto after the draft and that “there is very strong interest by some very good teams.”
When asked to list the teams that were interested, Boras said “They’re all in the United States except one,” hinting that the Blue Jays are one of the teams at the table. The involvement of the Jays isn’t terribly surprising, given that they had previous interest in the offseason as part of their desire to add left-handed hitting. Around the same time that the news of Conforto’s injury came out, the Jays acquired a different lefty bat in Raimel Tapia. Since Tapia has hit .275/.300/.388 this season for a wRC+ of 91, or 9% below league average, it stands to reason that Toronto still thinks they can upgrade in that department.
Of course, even if Conforto is able to return to health before season’s end, it’s fair to wonder which version he will be. After an amazing stretch of play from 2017-2020 wherein he hit .265/.369/.495 for a wRC+ of 133, he followed that up with a down year in 2021. His batting line last year was .232/.344/.384 for a wRC+ of 106, still above average but a far cry from his previous seasons. Given that disappointing season, followed by shoulder surgery, a lengthy layoff and then a rehab process of some kind, it’s hard to know how effective he can be in the coming months.
Of course, from Conforto’s perspective, he’d surely love the ability to get back on the field and show some signs of life before the offseason. As a free agent marketing himself to teams for the 2023 season, there would be a big difference between getting healthy in December and holding a showcase versus playing in real games, even if it’s only a handful.
Signing an injured player comes with risks but is not unprecedented. For instance, in August of last year, the Dodgers signed Cole Hamels for $1MM plus incentives as he was working his way back from various injuries. In that case, it didn’t work out, as Hamels was shut down for the season just two weeks later. With less than two weeks to go until the trade deadline, any team looking for an extra bat that comes up short could turn to Conforto as a risky fallback option.