Mets’ Michael Conforto contract conundrum comes down to this

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There are two ways Michael Conforto would sign an extension before his walk year begins:

  • Steve Cohen treats him as an elite free agent today and guarantees him $200 million — perhaps a lot more than $200 million.

Or

  • Conforto feels powerful ties to the team that drafted him and the potential for legacy in New York and with the Mets to a degree that he compels his representative, Scott Boras, to push for the best deal possible, but get it done in the short term.

The Mets are expected to explore long-term extensions this spring for Francisco Lindor and Conforto, with free agency beckoning after this season for both. Keep in mind, though, that the Wilpon/Brodie Van Wagenen regime made forays with Conforto last spring and never even reached the offer stage with a player who preferred to play the season first.

So will anything change this time?

Boras, despite a reputation otherwise, has worked out long-term extensions before his clients reached free agency. Jered Weaver, Elvis Andrus, Jose Altuve, Stephen Strasburg and Xander Bogaerts are among those who have done so while having Boras as their rep. Bogaerts and Strasburg are pertinent because their extensions came in their walk years, and once players ebb close to free agency they generally are much more difficult to tie up. Bogaerts signed a five-year, $120 million pact at the beginning of April 2019 and Strasburg inked a seven-year, $175 million package in May 2016.

The strong perception was those clients felt great comfort where they were and motivated Boras to negotiate hard, but to get the extensions done.

Mets Michael Conforto contract
Michael Conforto at Mets spring training on Feb. 24, 2021.
Corey Sipkin

Conforto has mentioned several times that Boras works for him, not vice versa, and Boras reiterated in a call Wednesday that he follows his clients’ desires.

So what does Conforto want?

He has said he likes playing for the Mets, but not enough to even request an offer last spring at a time when they were prepared to make one. In addition, Conforto is a player representative at a time of hostility between management and the union — which was only heightened this week with now former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather’s pronouncements about service-time manipulation. Someone working closely with the union in this environment, and with Boras as an agent, does not profile as likely to accept a team-friendly deal.

If that is the case, will Cohen stretch for Conforto now when Lindor probably will take $300 million-plus and is the priority?

The Mets like Conforto the player, the quiet leader, the excuse-free grinder. But do they believe the elite numbers of the shortened 2020 season or the very good, not great numbers of previous years? Will they pay $200 million-plus to a guy who is not the face of the franchise?

The Mets could have protected themselves by pursuing George Springer with more decisiveness and cash. Springer is a center fielder who has the bat to comfortably move to a corner outfield spot if needed. Springer signed with the Blue Jays for six years at $150 million. His OPS-plus the last four years is 135; Conforto’s is 134. Springer, though, can play center and has a powerful postseason résumé.

But Conforto is two years younger. He is eligible to be a free agent after his age-28 season. So would just multiplying Springer’s annual value ($25 million) for two more years for a package of eight years at $200 million — with outs in the deal like Bogaerts and Strasburg had — get it done? I would think only if Conforto wants it to get done.

Conforto had his best season in 2020, albeit in a 60-game schedule. He can bet on himself that he is going to do similarly over 162 games and that the world will be post-pandemic by next offseason and that the sport will have a new collective bargaining agreement. That equation almost certainly would provide an atmosphere for Boras to seek north of $200 million — so why settle for that with free agency so close?

Boras generally wants the market to dictate his best free agents’ compensation, tends to favor longer contracts that take his players through at least their mid-30s and maximizes the overall payout. He likened Conforto to Bernie Williams for his proven ability to play in New York — and the Yankees capitulated after the 1998 season and paid Williams far more than they had previously been willing to offer (the rival Red Sox were about to sign him). Boras also cited Conforto’s leadership and ability to hit elite fastballs in what Boras called “The Velocity Division” of the NL East.

“Michael is a very proven and established large-market, franchise player on many fronts,” Boras said.

Is he someone, though, who feels a powerful pull to stay a Met? If not, doing a deal this spring becomes substantially tougher.

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