Outfielder Michael Conforto has exercised his player option and will stay with the Giants for 2024, per Jon Heyman of The New York Post. Conforto could have opted out and become a free agent but will instead stay in San Francisco and make a salary of $18MM next year.
Conforto, 31 in June, signed a two-year, $36MM deal with the Giants coming into the 2023 season. He was allowed to opt out of the deal after the first season, so long as he took at least 350 trips to the plate in that initial campaign. He easily eclipsed that figure, getting to 470 PAs, but the quality of his work was only so-so. He hit 15 home runs on the year, well below his 30-per-year run from a few years ago. His .239/.334/.384 line amounted to a wRC+ of 100, indicating he was exactly league average.
The decision on whether or not to opt out was arguably borderline, despite the tepid season. This winter’s free agent market is considered to be light in terms of impact bats, which could have perhaps given Conforto a boost. He also demonstrated his health after missing the entire 2022 season, which was somewhat encouraging on its own. But on the other hand, there likely would not have been tons of momentum behind him if he decided to return to free agency.
Conforto had an incredibly strong run from 2017 to 2020, hitting 97 home runs in that time and slashing .265/.369/.495 for a wRC+ of 133. But his batting line dipped to .232/.344/.384 in 2021, with just 14 homers. That was an ill-timed down year, as it preceded Conforto’s free agency. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Mets in search of a more significant deal but ended up injuring his shoulder during that winter’s lockout. He eventually required surgery and missed the entire 2022 campaign.
The Giants took a shot on a post-surgery bounceback, though it didn’t quite work out. If he had returned to free agency, he would have had a hard time marketing himself. On the one hand, he has some very strong past results and is coming off a healthy campaign. But two of the past three years have featured fairly tepid offense, with a totally lost year in between. The shortened 2020 season obviously wasn’t his fault, but the fact remains that Conforto hasn’t been both healthy and clearly above average at the plate for a full season since 2019. Since he’s not considered an especially strong defender, that declining offense obviously hurts his earning power.
Conforto now slots into the outfield depth chart for the 2024 Giants, alongside Luis Matos, Mike Yastrzemski, Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater, with LaMonte Wade Jr., Heliot Ramos and Blake Sabol perhaps in the mix as well. The Giants are expected to be aggressive this winter, likely pursuing marquee free agents after missing out on players like Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa last winter. They have been speculatively tied to outfielders like Cody Bellinger and successfully pursuing such a player would further crowd this picture.
That could perhaps lead to Conforto or someone else being shopped around in trades. Conforto, Yastrzemski, Wade and Sabol all hit from the left side, as does Bellinger. For a platoon-loving club like the Giants, perhaps that’s too many lefties for one outfield, but it also depends on how the dominos fall this winter. Clubs would likely have some level of interest in taking a flier on Conforto given the market conditions, but the valuations from them might fluctuate based on whether they believe he’s capable of returning to his pre-2021 form.
For the Giants, keeping Conforto’s salary on the books means they are projected to have a payroll of $147MM, per Roster Resource. They have had payrolls around $200MM many times in the past and their competitive balance tax number is currently pegged at $170MM. The base threshold is going to be $237MM in 2024, giving them plenty of room before the luxury tax would become a concern.
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