Jan. 6: The Giants have formally announced Conforto’s two-year deal. The opt-out provision in his contract is contingent on plate appearances, Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area reports (Twitter link). Conforto will trigger the ability to opt out upon reaching 350 plate appearances.
December 23: The Giants and outfielder Michael Conforto are in agreement on a two-year, $36MM deal. Conforto will be able to opt out after the first season. The deal is pending a physical. He is represented by the Boras Corporation.
Conforto, 30 in March, was arguably the best upside play remaining on the free agent market based on his excellent run of results from 2017 through 2020. However, it’s not without risk for the Giants, as Conforto had a disappointing season in 2021 and then missed the 2022 season entirely due to shoulder surgery.
In that 2017-2020 stretch, Conforto got into 467 games for the Mets and launched 97 home runs. His 24.4% strikeout rate was slightly higher than average, but his 12.7% walk rate was well beyond par. His overall offensive output resulted in a batting line of .265/.369/.495, which was 33% above the league average as measured by wRC+. That 133 wRC+ was in the top 25 among all qualified hitters in baseball during that time.
In 2021, Conforto’s production dipped, most notably in the power department. He only hit 14 home runs in 125 games after hitting 27 or more in the previous three full seasons. He finished the year with a .232/.344/.384 slash, which was still a bit above average as his wRC+ was 106, but a noticeable drop-off from his previous form. Despite that down year, the Mets felt comfortable extending him an $18.4MM qualifying offer and Conforto felt comfortable rejecting it.
He went into free agency looking for a lucrative multi-year offer but didn’t secure it prior to the December 1 lockout. He then injured his shoulder while training during that lockout and eventually required surgery. Given his uncertain health status and attachment to draft pick forfeiture from rejecting the qualifying offer, that scrubbed any chance of him securing a significant contract. Once the draft passed and he was no longer tied to any kind of penalties, there were some rumors of teams considering signing him to a short deal while hoping his shoulder could heal enough to help a stretch run, but that never materialized.
Conforto then entered this offseason as a high-risk, high-reward play. He’s coming off an entire missed season and a poor showing in 2021, but was one of the best hitters in baseball prior to that. MLBTR predicted he would land a one-year, $15MM deal, hoping to prove his health and return to free agency for a more lucrative deal a year from now. Conforto’s agent, Scott Boras, said that his client would be looking for a two-year deal with an opt-out akin to the one he negotiated between Carlos Rodón and the Giants. The situations were somewhat analogous since Rodón was also an extremely talented player with health concerns. However, he was at least coming off a strong 2021 season when he secured that two-year, $44MM deal with the Giants, so it seemed like Conforto would have to settle for something beneath that given his greater uncertainty. He has now indeed secured the deal he was looking for, with the Giants again proving to be the team willing to give out the desired opt-out. Conforto got a lesser guarantee than Rodón, as expected, but has done quite well for himself in getting a higher salary than predicted.
Despite Conforto’s uncertain status, he still proved to be quite popular this offseason. The Rangers, Blue Jays, Mets, Rockies, Cubs, Marlins, Mariners and Astros were all connected to him at various points in the offseason. Some of those clubs ended up addressing their outfields with other players, but those that still have designs on upgrades will find limited options remaining on the open market. Some of the top unsigned free agent outfielders are Jurickson Profar, David Peralta, Trey Mancini and AJ Pollock.
For the Giants, they went into this offseason looking to be aggressive. They followed up their 107-win campaign in 2021 with a disappointing 81-81 finish in 2022. Since their future payroll was fairly wide open and they were looking for significant improvements, they were frequently connected to marquee free agents such as Aaron Judge and the “big four” shortstops: Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi did little to temper expectations, telling media at the beginning of the offseason that “from a financial standpoint, there would be nobody that would be out of our capability.”
The early stages of the club’s offseason seemed to orbit around their pursuit of Judge and the club reportedly offered him a contract of $360MM, but he eventually secured the same guarantee from the Yankees and accepted. The Giants then pivoted to Correa and agreed to a 13-year, $350MM deal, though that ended up falling through in unprecedented fashion. The Giants flagged something in Correa’s medical that gave them pause, later reported to be his right leg, postponing the official signing just as it was to be announced. Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Correa had even started house shopping with his family in the area. But the health concerns were enough that they allowed him to walk away from the pact, freeing him to secure a 12-year, $315MM deal with the Mets shortly thereafter.
Since all of the other top free agents were already off the board, there were no remaining avenues for the Giants to make the big splash that many expected. By turning to Conforto, they arguably did the best they could among the remaining free agents. However, there’s a certain absurdity to the club walking into a public relations nightmare by letting Correa slip away at the last second, only to see their two biggest free agent splashes be Conforto, who missed the entire 2022 season, and Mitch Hanigerwho has only twice played 100 games in a season due to various injuries.
Regardless of the optics, the Giants were reportedly looking to add two outfielders this offseason and have accomplished that. Conforto has played center field in the past but not since 2019 and he wasn’t graded well there at that time. The Giants will most likely be looking at Conforto and Haniger in the corners, leaving center field to Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater. That will likely push LaMonte Wade Jr. into spending more time at first base, potentially platooning with JD Daviswhere the club will be facing the loss of Brandon Belt.
Assuming an even distribution of the money, this contract brings the club’s payroll up to $181MM, per Roster Resource. That’s well beyond last year’s Opening Day payroll of $154MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, although they’ve gone above $200MM in the past. Their $197MM competitive balance tax calculation is also well shy of the $233MM luxury tax threshold. That could leave them room to maneuver if they have their eyes on further additions.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.