Cleveland Guardians Target #3: Michael Conforto – Right Field
The outfield for the Guardians heading into 2022 isn’t as far off as it was entering 2021. Still, questions remain about pieces not named Myles Straw. Will Josh Naylor recover well enough from his injury to still roam right field? Will Harold Ramirez ever discover his glove? Will Oscar Mercado’s recent re-discovery of his ability to make hard contact roll over into 2022?
That last question in particular is the one I’ll be watching the closest this offseason, with top outfield prospect George Valera at least another season away from his debut and no concrete answers in the corner outfield spots for 2022 and beyond. Now, if Dolan’s pledge to spend in free agency is to be taken seriously, it means at least one Hail Mary free agent target, and what better target than an impact bat in the outfield who could help insulate Jose Ramirez in the middle of the lineup?
Michael Conforto, 28, is wrapping up his seventh, and possibly final season with the New York Mets. Conforto was an instant impact rookie for the Mets 2015 World Series run and an All Star during the 2017 campaign. He has been mostly healthy, playing at least two-thirds of possible games since his first full season in 2016, boasting a career slash line of .254/.356/.467. The 2021 season has been a bit of a disappointment for the Mets’ right fielder, slashing just .228/.342/.376 in 123 games with 13 home runs, 20 doubles and 53 runs driven in.
Disappointment is relative for Cleveland fans this season, who probably would have coveted this type of production from an outfield bat in 2021, but for Conforto who hit 29 doubles and 33 home runs just two seasons ago it’s a step back for a contract year. Despite the offensive numbers not being as flashy as they could be, Conforto still draws walks at an excellent clip (12.6% since 2017) and plays above-average defense in the outfield.
Conforto would be a free agent splash unlike any player for Cleveland since Edwin Encarnacion in 2017, and definitely won’t come cheap. This season being a down year helps a little, but a contract somewhat similar to Nick Castellanos’ is probably in order. Something in the four-year $12-14M per year range isn’t unreasonable for the 28-year-old currently making $12.25M in his last year of arbitration.