One of my goals as both a fan and a writer is to accurately judge each player, manager, coach and executive. It’s always a challenging thing to do because you can’t help but to have favorites, biases and people you just don’t like. As an example, it is my firm belief that LOOGYs were massively overrated, both by fans and management of the Mets. But that bias of mine does not extend to thinking all lefty relievers are bad. In my mind tendering Robert Gsellman and cutting loose Chasen Shreve was a big mistake. To me, Shreve’s performance greatly outweighed the flexibility of Gsellman, both his available options and alleged ability to pitch effectively in MLB as both a starter and a reliever.
Some people think there’s a bias from me towards Michael Conforto. But my position is to judge a player both by what he’s done and what he’s likely to do going forward. Conforto had a great year in 2020, if he kept up his pace over an entire 162-game season, he would have finished with a 5.4 fWAR, a full 1.0 better than his previous best. That’s terrific.
However, the previous two season, both with over 150 games played, resulted in fWAR marks of 3.0 and 3.7 for Conforto. My opinion is that’s more likely to be Conforto’s true talent level than what he did in 2020 extrapolated to a full season. My personal value for Conforto is as a 3-4 fWAR player. That’s a really good guy to have on your team. If you had a 3-4 fWAR player at every position, you’d probably win the pennant. The Nationals, the last team to win a World Series in a 162-game season, had at least a 3-fWAR season from just three hitters and three pitchers.
Meanwhile, Nick Castellanos put up fWAR marks of 2.5-3.0 in three of the four years before he was a free agent following the 2019 season. He got a 4/$64 with an opt out after one year. My valuation of Conforto has him as a better player than Castellanos. If Castellanos was worth an AAV of $16 million, Conforto to me would be worth somewhere around $20 million.
If Conforto was a free agent this season, rather than next, he would be behind George Springer in the pecking order. Springer was on pace for a 5.1 fWAR season in 2020, slightly behind Conforto. But Springer was better previously. He enjoyed a likely career year with a 6.5 fWAR in 2019 but he also has a 4.5 and 5.0 seasons under his belt – making three seasons better than Conforto’s best – outside of 2020.
Just because Springer had a 6.5 fWAR in 2019 doesn’t mean that he should be valued at that rate. He’d likely be valued as a 4-5 fWAR player, as that’s much more in line with what he’s done previously. If Conforto was valued at an AAV of $4 million higher than Castellanos, Springer would likely be close to $8 million above Conforto. Maybe not quite that high, given that he’s three years older, but in that ballpark.
Of course, Conforto’s not a free agent yet. This has the chance to help him, though. If Conforto puts up another 5.0-fWAR type season in 2021, that will certainly push his value higher. You can argue that 2018-19 aren’t his true value numbers, as in the former year he was still recovering from the shoulder injury while in the latter season, he had a good year interrupted by a concussion.
A lot of people don’t want to let Conforto get to free agency. Instead, they want to lock him up to a long-term yesterday. But the Mets aren’t in a great position to do that right now, at least not at terms that make sense to them. There’s no reason for Conforto to give the Mets any hometown discount. He’s just one year from free agency, where he’ll be available on the right side of 30. And even if he doesn’t have a great year in 2021, there’s enough there in Conforto’s career that some team might view him as being worth a premium.
In addition to Conforto, the Mets will have to make free agent decisions on Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. And if somehow all of the planets align and Steven Matz turns in a good year in 2021, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, too. Do you want to give Conforto a multi-year deal now, one that will likely take more than a $25 million AAV, when you have the potential departure of three free agent SP?
Gus has framed the Mets’ choice as Springer or Conforto. My opinion is that it’s bigger than that, that Stroman and Syndergaard are in the equation, too. There’s no reason to commit long-term now to any of those three that are under control in 2021. There are questions around all three and if none of them are offering a hometown discount, let them fight it out on the field and have them earn a market rate deal from the Mets.
Stroman sat out all of last year and struggled when he first joined the Mets in 2019. Syndergaard missed all of last year with an injury and no one knows when he’ll be able to return and how good he’ll be when he does. And Conforto, well, where do we start?
In 2016 he was sent to the minors multiple times.
In 2017 he was having a great year but it was cut short with a shoulder injury
In 2018 he didn’t miss any time because of the shoulder but his poor start was likely a result of rushing back.
In 2019 he had a great start and a great finish, but was done in by the concussion in the middle
In 2020 he had an unsustainable .412 BABIP
And the other thing that gets lost in the shuffle is that if the season hadn’t been delayed due to Covid, that Conforto would have opened the year on the IL, as he suffered an oblique injury in Spring Training. And while it happened at the end of the year, we should note that Conforto suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the final series against the Nationals.
Maybe none of these by themselves are a giant red flag – although my opinion is that the 2020 BABIP fits that description – but all of them together should make one hesitant to give Conforto a long-term deal valued at what he did in the shortened season of 2020.