Giants outfielder Michael Conforto reached 350 plate appearances on the season during Sunday’s game, and in doing so vested a provision in his contract that converts the second season of his two-year, $36MM contract into a player option. He’ll now have the right to decline that player option, valued at $18MM, and opt back into free agency this offseason.
Whether Conforto, 30, ultimately opts out of his deal will depend on his final couple months of play. As things stand, he’s had a roughly average season at the plate, batting .241/.331/.401 (102 wRC+) with 13 homers, 10 doubles, four stolen bases, a 10.5% walk rate and a 23.5% strikeout rate. As recently as late May, it looked like the longtime Mets slugger was trending toward an opt-out, but his bat has gone cold as the weather has warmed. Conforto was hitting .250/.347/.464 through his first 196 plate appearances, but he batted just .228/.303/.324 over his next 152 trips to the plate.
Conforto’s season-long numbers are respectable — but they’re also a far cry from the .265/.369/.495 slash he turned in across 1959 plate appearances from 2017-20. The former first-round pick might’ve commanded a nine-figure deal in free agency had he sustained that output for one more season, but Conforto’s production slipped to .232/.344/.384 through 125 games in 2021. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Mets at the end of that season, still hopeful of securing a multi-year deal, but an offseason shoulder injury required surgery that kept Conforto out of action for the entire 2022 season. He didn’t sign with a club until the 2022-23 offseason when he inked his current deal with the Giants.
Though Conforto performed at a star-caliber level during that 2017-20 peak, he’s now turned in tepid .237/.337/.392 slash over his past 827 plate appearances — his 2021 and 2023 campaigns combined. He’s still walking at a strong clip, and his exit velocity and hard-hit rate remain largely unchanged. However, he’s hitting the ball on the ground at the highest rate of his career (46.9%), and this season’s 17% line-drive rate is the lowest of his career. The plus defensive marks he regularly generated early in his career have also deteriorated; he’s sporting negative marks in Defensive Runs Saved (-3) and Outs Above Average (-3) so far in 2023.
The upcoming free agent class skews heavily toward pitchers, with very few impact bats available. A strong finish that looks more like Conforto’s peak years could position him as one of the better bats on the market, joining the likes of Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman. As far as pure corner outfielders, Conforto would be up against Teoscar Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Joc Pederson, among others.