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Extending Michael Conforto is important, but not easy

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For a multitude of reasons, the Mets need to extend Michael Conforto. It will be a tall task, however.

MLB: New York Mets at Toronto Blue Jays Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have quite a few options for extensions, especially after the biggest name pieces are off the board and playing in Toronto and Los Angeles. The top of that list, obviously, is Francisco Lindor—he is 27, arguably the best shortstop in the game and a top ten player overall, and you just traded two shortstops to acquire him. They have to extend him. He is priority one.

The player who should be the second biggest priority is also likely to be very difficult to retain: Michael Conforto.

After George Springer spurned the Mets for the Blue Jays, there was plenty of discussion around how the Mets chose to extend Conforto over going all in on Springer. However, there are plenty of reasons to have concern around a Conforto extension, chiefly his agent, Scott Boras, and the poor free-agent class of 2021/2022

Boras often talks a big game about keeping extensions on the table, but in practice his clients rarely sign them. He simply wants market value for his players — something that most teams do not want to offer when extending their players before free agency — so it is rare for the team and Boras to agree to that, and most of his clients hit free agency as a result.

He has called early extensions for players bad as recently as 2019 — while a Conforto extension wouldn’t be terribly early, one year away from free agency, it is still a pre-free agency extension. This is not to say Boras is a bad agent — it is actually the opposite. He takes care of his players and gets them paid what they deserve, and sometimes more. But that does not change how difficult he will make it on the Mets to get Conforto to stay.

It does not help the Mets case that Conforto is coming off his best season. He hit .322/.412/.515 in 54 games during the shortened 2020 campaign, good for a career high 157 wRC+. He was the 7th best outfielder per wRC+ last year, and the 8th best per fWAR, with 2.0. Boras and Conforto are (rightfully) going to ask for top ten outfielder money.

On top of that, the outfield free agents next year are underwhelming at best. The top of the outfield class next year is: Dexter Fowler? Charlie Blackmon, if he opts out of his deal? Andrew McCutchen, if the Phillies do not exercise their team option? Tommy Pham? Corey Dickerson? Nick Castellanos, if he opts out?

Yikes.

Michael Conforto is clearly better than every other free agent outfielder next year, and by my count, better by a significant margin. Conforto leads that group in wRC+ since 2017, and is only 0.5 fWAR behind Tommy Pham, though Pham is four years older than Conforto, and was poor in a 30 game sample in 2020. I assume the Mets know this, and I would bet Boras and Conforto know it too.

The Mets, for this reason, basically need to extend him in order to keep contending in the immediate future. Their outfield prospects are virtually nonexistent — here at Amazin’ Avenue, we had five outfielders in our top 25: Pete Crow-Armstrong, an exciting but very young prospect who was just drafted out of high school last year, Isaiah Greene, who is no longer with the team after being traded for Lindor, Freddy Valdez, who is still only 17 years old, Adrian Hernandez, who is only 19 years old, and Stanley Consuegra, who is 20, but has missed a lot of time with injuries.

The Mets simply do not have any upper minors outfield depth who can step in to replace Conforto. They would have to go out and get one via a trade or free agency — and they would almost certainly be downgrading — even if Conforto is not as good as he was in 2020, he is still better than the rest of the field.

This poses an interesting negotiation process. Conforto has openly stated his desire to stay in Queens, and, as Boras stated in the article above, he would not necessarily force a player not to sign an extension. However, I would bet he would advise against it, for every reason listed above. The Mets need Conforto a whole lot more than Conforto needs the Mets, and it would not be a surprise if everyone involved understands this. The Mets are certainly going to go hard to extend Conforto, but it is easy to see how it will prove difficult for the Mets.

This is not to say it will not happen. Overall, the player’s desire to stay and the Mets money could talk and all of this would be moot. However, there are very real obstacles for the Mets to overcome in order to keep one of their best homegrown players in recent memory — and they would be smart to try until the very last day they are able to do so.

Francisco Lindor is the slam dunk, must do extension that everyone will talk about, but Michael Conforto’s importance to this team cannot but understated, and will be vitally important to the team’s future. It will also not come as easily as some think.