Michael Confortos slump complicates Mets free agency future

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Great sports teams face challenges about their future. Terrible ones face crises.

The ones in the middle face conundrums.

The 2021 Mets, obviously not terrible, while certainly not great, addressed a current conundrum Monday when they sat Michael Conforto, their homegrown All-Star and impending free agent, for their series opener against the Marlins at the ridiculously spelled loanDepot Park in Miami. The 28-year-old Conforto has experienced a highly disappointing platform season, from COVID-19 to underperformance to a right hamstring injury to more underperformance. He owned a highly disappointing .196/.324/.324 slash line when Monday’s game began.

In uncharacteristically news-making comments, manager Luis Rojas declared the 28-year-old Conforto has been “a little bit too mental at the plate” and described his “homework” as “to simplify things, and just go out there and look for a pitch and crush it.”

Conforto’s walk year has only complicated matters for the Mets, who can assess their free-agents-to-be thusly so far:

1. Conforto, perhaps the steadiest player of the Mets’ four prior campaigns, has cratered.

2. Noah Syndergaard, aiming for a second-half return from 2020 Tommy John surgery, instead suffered a setback and hopes to be active in September.

3. Marcus Stroman, who opted out of last season and subsequently accepted the Mets’ one-year, $18.9-million qualifying offer, is crushing it, serving as the club’s most reliable starting pitcher with Jacob deGrom sidelined.

4. Javier Baez, acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline, immediately showcased both what makes him so captivating (a big home run, some great defense) and so frustrating (no hits besides the homer).

The Mets intend to surpass the luxury-tax threshold next season (assuming there is such a feature in the next basic agreement, the agreement itself we’ll assume has been green-lit) after staying under it in Steve Cohen’s maiden voyage as owner. As we stand here at the outset of August, exactly how they will increase their payroll next season beyond raises for their arbitration-eligible guys remains surprisingly uncertain.

Conforto could have put forth a monster 2021 to pressure the Mets into rewarding him with the sort of contract ($150 million over six years) that the Blue Jays gave to George Springer. Instead, his considerable struggles make you wonder whether he’d consider accepting the qualifying offer, the precise value not yet disclosed, and bet on himself to put together a rebound in 2022. This goes double for Conforto’s former apartment-mate, Syndergaard, in the wake of missing all of last season and the delay to his comeback.

Given the excitement surrounding Baez’s arrival at Citi Field, with the tenured (sorry, that’s “ten-yeared”) Francisco Lindor not hiding his joy over becoming teammates with his compatriot, it’s fair to wonder whether the 28-year-old could turn this Mets stay from a rental to a purchase. Stroman, meanwhile, should face a vibrant market after reestablishing himself, and because the Mets are unable to slap a qualifying offer (and the accompanying draft compensation) on him. It’s not as if the Mets possess an obvious replacement for him … well, besides Syndergaard.

Conundrums aplenty, and over one-third of the season — plus October, the Mets hope — awaits them to further determine how things will shake out with this talented quartet. 

In the moment, the Mets sure as heck weren’t contemplating such global issues. They just want to get Conforto going, get Syndergaard healthy, get a longer look at Baez and just let Stroman do his thing.

“We’re looking at him to simplify things,” Rojas said of Conforto. “We want to simplify things for him so he just goes to the plate looking for his pitch and just takes his ‘A’ swing.”

There’s little simple about the Mets’ future as Cohen tries to build a perennial contender. It could be far worse, though. The Kumar Rocker mess aside, there’s no crisis to be found with this franchise.

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