Michael Conforto was the most notable unsigned free agent of this past offseason. The outfielder rejected a qualifying offer from the Mets and didn’t find a deal to his liking before the league locked out the players in early December. The following month, he injured his right shoulder during training and remains unsigned.
Conforto underwent surgery last month, and reports at the time suggested the procedure would end his 2022 season before it began. That may not actually be the case, as his agent Scott Boras now tells Joel Sherman of the New York Post it’s not out of the question Conforto could make it back to the majors by September. “There is a possibility the swinging modality can be back to normal at a much earlier date than the throwing aspect,” Boras told Sherman. “He had his surgery in April. There’s a chance depending on how he progresses that (hitting in the majors late in the season) is a possibility.”
Based on those comments, it seems the path back for Conforto would be as a hitter only. If he’s still unable to throw by September, clubs certainly aren’t going to plug him back into right field (and probably wouldn’t risk him at first base either). Yet there’s apparently at least some chance he makes a late-season return as a designated hitter and/or bench bat, which hadn’t previously appeared possible.
Even if Conforto’s shoulder progresses well enough he could make it back to the diamond, he’d of course need to find a contract offer to his liking. Teams aren’t going to commit the kind of multi-year deal he’d been looking for entering the offseason, and Conforto and Boras may eventually decide it’s better for the 29-year-old to continue rehabbing on his own and look for a new team next year.
That said, clubs figure to keep an eye on Conforto’s progress over the next few months. While he posted only marginally above-average offensive numbers last season, he hit at a .261/.365/.478 level between 2018-20. Something approaching that production would be a boon to virtually every lineup, and a contending club looking for a bit more left-handed punch could have interest in a late-season pact if he’s healthy. That kind of arrangement, meanwhile, could allow Conforto to showcase his form for a few weeks (and into a possible postseason run) while still hitting the market next winter.
In any event, a resolution won’t be coming for several months. Conforto’s clearly not near an imminent return to game shape, and he’ll have to continue working on his own for at least the next two months. Any team would forfeit an amateur draft choice were they to sign Conforto now because he rejected the Mets’ QO. Certainly, no team is going to do that for a player with such an uncertain health status. Pick forfeiture will no longer apply once the draft concludes on July 19, however, so there’d be no penalty (aside from whatever guarantee he receives) for a team to add him after that point. The Mets won’t receive any compensation if he signs a post-draft deal.
Whether Conforto will sign anywhere this year won’t be known until at least after the All-Star Break, and quite likely for a while longer. That it’s even possible after news of his shoulder surgery makes for a surprising development, though, one that’ll be worth monitoring later in the season.