John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In what turned out to be the Mets' last gasp Monday night, and realistically the 2019 season as well, Michael Conforto struck out swinging with two runners on base to end the seventh inning.
That was fitting for a team that will have a number of important decisions to make this winter if it is going to make the jump from nice second half to legitimate contender in 2020, because in many ways, Conforto is a perplexing case.
He's had a solid season, highlighted by his 31 home runs. But in a year when more than 50 players around the Majors have already hit 30-plus long balls, that doesn't necessarily make you a star.
And that's really the issue for a guy whose gorgeous swing and early success created high expectations practically from the day he arrived in 2015. All things considered, including his .251 average and his .839 OPS, this season is more evidence that Conforto is never going to quite live up to those predictions of full-blown stardom.
As has been the pattern throughout his career, he's a streaky hitter who it appears will always have extreme highs and lows. And Conforto has been ice-cold in September, hitting .169 with a .636 OPS that has been crippling to the Mets' chase of a Wild Card spot.
That strikeout in the seventh inning Monday night against Bryan Moran was also a reminder that the lefty-hitting Conforto has been more vulnerable than expected against left-handed pitching.
I remember former hitting coach Kevin Long telling me a few years ago, "I'll bet anything you want that Michael will pound left-handed pitching for a long time," and it's not as if Conforto is helpless against southpaws.
But with a slash line this season of. 241/.314/.382/.696, he hasn't done nearly the type of damage that Long foresaw -- and those numbers are slightly better than his career numbers against lefties.
All of which raises the question: should the Mets explore the possibility of trading Conforto this winter?
It's particularly relevant because he'll be two years away from free agency, with Scott Boras as his agent, going into his age-29 season. So this offseason, the Mets should consider whether they'll be willing to sign Conforto to an expensive, multi-year deal because if not, his trade value will diminish considerably as he gets closer to free agency.
A trade could make sense for the Mets, depending both on what they could get in return and what they're thinking is on a number of different options going into next season.
It might be a viable way to add starting pitching for next season, depending on what the Mets do with both Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. Or, who knows, the Cubs are going to be looking to make changes after their disappointing season, and with Bryant also two years away from a Boras-led free agency, perhaps Conforto could be part of a blockbuster for Chicago's star third baseman.
Realistically, the Cubs would want Syndergaard in such a deal, but the Mets would need pitching in return, and the logical guy would be Kyle Hendricks, whose four-year, $55 million contract extension beginning next season might make him too pricey.
In any case, those are the sorts of deals Brodie Van Wagenen should at least think about for next season and beyond, though so much depends on how he envisions using the likes of Jeff McNeil, Dom Smith, J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, and Jed Lowrie.
Finally, there is the speculation regarding Syndergaard, as he too will be two years away from free agency. It would be hard to justify if they don't re-sign Wheeler, but that's going to cost big bucks now that he's only weeks away from free agency.
Obviously, then, Van Wagenen could go in a lot of different directions. He has plenty of outfield options, and that's not even counting the possibility that Yoenis Cespedes could be back in the mix as he'll be entering the final year of his contract.
Not so long ago, it seemed none of these questions about other players would affect Conforto, and the Mets wouldn't be wrong if they choose to leave him in right field next year and beyond. At the very least, he's a solid player and clubhouse presence, albeit one that Boras will be looking to sell in a much higher price range.
"It's a tough question," one long-time scout said about projecting Conforto's long-range worth as a free agent. "There's more swing and miss than I thought there'd be with him. He's not easy to evaluate because when he's hot you love everything about him, but then he goes cold and he falls back into the habit of trying to pull too much, and sometimes he has a hard time righting himself.
"I always want to think there's still more in the tank with him, but he's got over 2,000 plate appearances in the big leagues (2,246), and usually by then that tells you who he is as a hitter."
In Conforto's case, that's not a bad thing. It's just not the superstar that everyone from Keith Hernandez to Long thought he'd be by now.