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One Last Move: Bringing Michael Conforto home

The Mets need another bat. There aren’t many left on the open market, except for an old friend.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Occam’s Razor is a principle that, in layman’s terms, tells us that the simplest solution is the best solution. The Mets have done well to improve their team and position themselves as a serious threat in the National League East, but they are still a bat short. A lot of the available bats have been picked off the free agent market. Michael Conforto is still out there, and has proven he can perform in New York. There has been little to suggest that the Mets are interested in a reunion, or even that Conforto is interested in returning. However, both sides should revisit their positions.

There’s no need to take a deep dive into Conforto’s production, since most Mets fans are familiar with it, given his seven years with the club. He has slashed .255/.356/.824 and a 16.9 fWAR since his 2015 debut. His 132 home runs in New York ranked seventh in franchise history, right behind Carlos Beltran. He is also only one of two Mets, Gary Carter being the other, to hit two home runs in a World Series game.

Last year, in his worst year since 2016, he still managed to finish with a 106 wRC+, after finishing with a wRC+ of 119, 127, and 158 in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. It’s easy to write off last year as an aberration given his recent output, an outlier rather than the norm. Inserting his bat back into the lineup would immediately make the lineup look a lot deeper, especially when you consider that the club is very right-hand heavy and could use a power lefty bat to plug in there. He would slot comfortably behind Pete Alonso and give them a deep middle of their order.

As it stands, the Mets are “full” at each position, so it’s easy to posit that they are done making moves to improve their offense. Their outfield includes, presumably, Brandon Nimmo in left, Startling Marte in center, and Mark Canha in right. The team has no shortage of DH options, too, with J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Robinson Canó figuring to get time at the newly-implemented spot. So why would the Mets even be interested in Conforto?

For one thing, there are two legitimate injury risks in the outfield in Canha, who has suffered some hip injuries in the past, and Nimmo, who has been oft-injured as well in recent years. With Marte’s oblique injury in the spring, it puts the team in a precarious position in their outfield, especially if the oblique keeps Marte out beyond Spring Training. As it stands, the team has Travis Jankowski, Nick Plummer, and Khalil Lee waiting in the wings in the outfield, but multiple injuries could force two or more onto the roster at the same time, which is sub-optimal for a club looking to compete for a title.

Conforto is a reliable presence, both in the field and at the plate, and could also allow them to DH someone like Canha alongside Smith, Davis, and Canó. It also frees the club up to trade either Davis or Smith for another piece, potentially to help improve their bullpen. It gives the team some badly needed versatility and some options in how they can configure their outfield and their lineup, which currently features a 5-9 of Eduardo Escobar, Jeff McNeil, Canha, Canó/Smith/Davis, and James McCann. That bottom half of the order looks significantly deeper with the addition of Conforto’s bat.

For another thing, the other NL East teams have been very busy post-lockout addressing their offense, while the Mets have mostly appeared comfortable with the state of their roster as currently constructed. In the past few days alone, the Braves brought in Matt Olson and Kenley Jansen, while the Phillies bolstered their lineup with the additions of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos—two players whom the Mets should have considered, especially the former. Philadelphia sports one of the scariest lineups in the division, and Atlanta should still be considered a very serious threat to repeat their division title, even after letting Freddie Freeman walk. While the Mets are still in a good position right now, they should make another move to put themselves over the top and give them another weapon to try and secure their first NL East title since 2015.

There are two big impediments for making a deal happen. The first is the state of the team’s payroll. According to Spotrac, they are currently at around $286 million in terms of their Competitive Balance Payroll. With arbitration and spring training invites making the team, that number will likely exceed the $290 million “Steve Cohen Tax” threshold. In that case, they should just go balls to the wall and completely blow past it. However, it remains to be seen whether their philosophy dictates that they will do that. While Cohen himself showed no hesitance to go beyond that figure, he didn’t say how beyond it he would go, and Conforto could push them into $300-plus million territory.

In addition, Scott Boras is Conforto’s agent, and he is likely to want to hold on to the best possible deal he can get for his client. Will he be willing to let Conforto take a one-year pillow deal with the old club, coming off a down year, in order to re-establish his value? That would be a smart play, especially given the outfielder’s familiarity with playing in New York, but it’s usually now Boras works for his clients. With Conforto turning down a QO earlier this winter, there’s even less reason to think he would limp back to New York to take a short-term deal, but that could be his best move right now. A lot of teams that were said to be interested in him have filled in their open outfield spots, leaving limited landing spots for the 29-year-old.

The Mets bringing Conforto back would be a great short-term play that immediately makes the a better team in 2022, and affords Conforto another opportunity to re-establish his value going into a normal offseason next year in order to try to land a big contract. If Conforto can bet on himself, and the Mets can bet on an old friend, both sides could reap the benefits.