The old adage around the game of baseball roughly goes that the back of a player’s baseball card will usually help you determine how a player will perform. If one were to take a look at the back of Michael Conforto’s baseball card heading into 2021—imagine, for a moment, that baseball cards included stats like wRC+ and WAR—you would see a player slashing .259/.358/.484 with a career 128 wRC+, an .843 OPS, 118 home runs, 348 runs scored, and a 16.1 fWAR in six seasons. This only makes Conforto’s disappointing 2021 season, one that could be his final go-around with the Mets, all the more confusing.
It’s hard to fault the Mets for penning Conforto into the middle of their lineup in permanent ink heading into Opening Day. The outfielder, who entered this year as one of the few remaining pieces from the club’s 2015 World Series roster, was coming off perhaps his best major league season. In the abbreviated 2020 campaign, he hit .322/.412/.515 with a career-best 158 wRC+ and a 2.2 fWAR in 54 games. Paired with Pete Alonso and the newly-acquired Francisco Lindor, this should have given New York one of the most feared lineups in baseball. Instead, the offense was the main culprit in the team missing the postseason, and Conforto was a big reason why.
The Mets’ 2021 season had so many twists and turns and strange stories—lest we forget the ratcoon, Donnie Stevenson, and the home run horse, to name a few—that it’s almost impossible to believe that Conforto’s walk-off hit by pitch at the home opener was this season. But yes, in the fourth game of the year, Conforto’s right elbow was the main topic of discussion around MLB. With the team locked in a 2-2 contest against the Marlins following Jeff McNeil’s game-tying homer, Conforto strode to the plate with the bases loaded and took one for the team—literally. All replays seemed to show his elbow hanging over the strike zone, but the umpires gifted him a run batted in by not calling any form of interference, and Conforto’s season was off to a weird but rewarding start.
There was nothing else to really add for him in April, as he collected just 15 hits in 71 at-bats and finished the month slashing .211/.325/.324 with an 89 wRC+ in 21 games. He didn’t pick up his first homer until his 17th game of the year, a solo shot in a 7-1 loss to the Nationals. He started off May stronger than he finished April, collecting back-to-back multi-hit games against the Phillies, including his second homer of the year. He looked to be coming around somewhat in May before he suffered a strained right hamstring in the club’s series finale against the Rays, which wound up costing him over a month of action.
Conforto returned on June 23 with a multi-hit game in a victory against the Braves, but would then go 0-for-his-next-13 with just one more knock the rest of the month, and five more through the All Star break—he did homer in that final game before the break in that disheartening loss to the Pirates. Scooter was toeing the Mendoza line heading into the season’s mid-way point, hitting .202/.341/.298 with a 90 wRC+ in 53 games. His power numbers were alarmingly down, and his strikeouts were up, as he was K’ing at a 23.4% clip. On the bright side, his walks were up, which resulted in a solid OBP to go along with a 14.1% BB%, which was right above his career norms.
Scooter resembled something closer to the player the club and the fans expected him to be in the second half, specifically in August. Post-break, he slashed .252/.347/.445 with 11 homers and a 118 wRC+ in 72 games. His strikeout numbers were more palatable (a 20.3% K%) while his walk numbers also came back down to earth (a 10.1% BB%). He shot out of gate after the All Star Game with six hits in 17 at-bats, including a three-hit game against the Reds, but he cooled down a bit and only had four hits over the final 12 games that month.
August was the one month in 2021 where Conforto looked like his old self. During the month, he posted a .268/.388/.488 slash line with a 144 wRC+ while playing pretty much every day (sometimes twice in one day). He hit nearly a quarter of his homers in that month and collected five multi-hit games. He entered the month with a .644 OPS but managed to raise it to .708 by month’s end. To cap off the craziness of the month, Conforto contributed a walk off single in the team’s August 31 game, which technically counted as their April 11 game, meaning he had two walk-offs in the team’s opening series against Miami. For the first time in 2021, people shifted from believing he would be crazy to turn down the club’s Qualifying Offer to thinking he would certainly test free agency.
Conforto finished off the year hitting .275/.359/.431 with a 115 wRC+ from September 1 through the last game of the year. He hit four more home runs in that span, including a 469 foot blast on September 29, which constituted both the longest homer hit by a Met in 2021 and also, possibly, his final dinger in front of the home crowd. Of all the Mets who’ve played for the club since Citi Field opened in 2009, only Lucas Duda hit more home runs in front of the home fans.
His potential final home game in front of the Flushing Faithful was an emotional affair, and one of the lasting images of the 2021 season. Conforto, who drew the ire of the fans throughout the course of the season—not as much as Lindor, but still noticeable at several points—made a diving catch in the ninth inning of the team’s September 30 home finale, and received a rousing ovation from the crowd. At that moment, the 28-year-old joined a long line of beloved Mets who have been photographed crying on the field, as his emotions overcame him following the showing of genuine affection from the fans.
And in the end, this moment dictated that, through the good and the bad, Conforto meant a lot to the fanbase, and the love appeared to be mutual. Conforto could be wildly frustrating, especially when he was caught in one of his cold streaks, but he was still a homegrown star who carved out a home in Flushing. While he frequently felt the ire of the paying crowd at Citi Field in 2021, this was a touching note for him to (potentially) go out on, as it showed what he meant to the Mets organization.
Conforto remains one of two players in franchise history to hit two home runs in a single World Series game. He is tenth on the all-time list in franchise history in SLG percentage (.468) and in OPS+ (124), and seventh in home runs (132). He has been a part of some big moments, including the aforementioned Game 4 performance, as well as his walk-off against the Nationals in 2019. His debut coincided with the club’s rise in 2015 and, despite being a rookie, he played like a seasoned pro down the stretch. He has been a lineup stalwart through some good times and some bad over the past few years, and it’s hard to believe that ride might be over.
It seems to be clear that the team will offer him a Qualifying Offer, and it’s almost certain he will reject it. There is always the chance afterwards that he can find his way back to Queens on a short-term or a long-term deal, but there is just as good a chance somebody will outbid the Mets. If this is the end of his story in Flushing, it’s a shame, but that is part of the business of baseball, and he will likely shine somewhere else. When he does return, in whatever uniform he might find himself wearing, a well-earned tribute video and warm ovation await him.