Like the Yankees and their trough of free agent middle infielders to choose from this winter, the Mets are also in a position to shake things up at a position where a fan favorite once stood.
Michael Conforto is a fully unrestricted free agent. If his last game at Citi Field this year was any indication, he does not expect to come back. In saluting the home crowd and bathing in an ovation during the Mets’ final home game, Conforto did not look like a man who would see these people again next spring.
He’s able to sign a lucrative multi-year deal for the first time and should absolutely explore that. Some team out there will give Conforto the contract he’s searching for, whether it’s a young team on the rise that wants an injection of leadership, an established squad looking for a win-now veteran, or perhaps even the Mets if they just can’t quit the homegrown kid who’s already seventh in team history in career home runs.
Again, that seems fairly unlikely. For all we know, the Mets may have already made it clear to Conforto that they’re going in a different direction. Maybe Conforto has told the organization that he has no plans to return. We don’t know that yet. What we do know is the list of outfielders that will become available to the highest bidder in a matter of weeks.
THE PLAYERS AND TEAM OPTIONS
Like Mets legend Kevin Pillar, who can opt in for another year in Queens at a $2.9 million price, a few other well-known outfielders also have the power to return to their clubs for a predetermined dollar amount.
Two players coming off strong showings in the NL Central are in that situation. Nick Castellanos — fresh off the best 162 games of his career — can either head back to the Reds for $16 million or say no thanks and field offers for whatever contracts the league brings him. Castellanos would be a good fit for a team that finished 25th in slugging and ran a .697 OPS against left-handed pitching. In over 1,000 career plate appearances against southpaws, Castellanos wields a .302/.354/.539 slash line.
At a slightly cheaper rate, Avisail Garcia may also be available for the Mets’ wooing. Garcia’s player option with the Brewers would earn him $12 million. But if he wants to get to freedom a year earlier, which would be understandable after the potency he showed in 2021, a modest two or three-year partnership with the Mets would make sense on paper.
The Phillies seem destined to buy out Andrew McCutchen for $3 million rather than pay the team option for $15 million, so if the Mets want a former MVP who brings a playful professionalism to the clubhouse, they know where to find one. If Kyle Schwarber’s mutual option with the Red Sox is declined, he’d be an interesting pickup as well, especially if the designated hitter is introduced to the National League as expected.
Braves outfielders Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson have mutual options too. Both have played well enough to earn attention in free agency, and after seeing how much they helped their division rival, the Mets know the type of impact that both players can have when swinging a good bat.
THE OPEN MARKET
Tommy Pham, Eddie Rosario, and/or Starling Marte. Would any of them want to be a Met? Does this front office even want to spend on an outfielder this time around, or would they rather wait until next offseason, when Aaron Judge, Byron Buxton, Mitch Haniger, Joey Gallo and Andrew Benintendi can all become available?
If the Mets aren’t interested in the Pham, Rosario, or Marte triumvirate, their options quickly fall off in terms of pizzazz. Corey Dickerson and Mark Canha are fine players, but not exactly the type that would make fans easily move on from Conforto, who nestled his way into the hearts of a notoriously bitter fan base. Dickerson and Canha are probably the best of the second-tier free agent outfielders. After them you start digging through Kole Calhoun, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Gerardo Parra.
Trades are, of course, always in play too. So is wrangling a player who can strap a glove on at multiple positions, including but not limited to the outfield. Kris Bryant has long been a muse for blue and orange Photoshop artists, and he could float between third base and the corner outfield spots, both of which should be a need. Chris Taylor’s contract with the Dodgers is on its final days as well.
In getting all the way to the NLCS after Ronald Acuna’s injury and Marcell Ozuna’s domestic violence suspension, the Braves showed that players’ on-field value can be recreated if not outright replaced. There’s an avenue for the Mets to do the same, following Atlanta’s model of plugging in four or five capable players where two All-Stars used to be.
The Mets and whoever they hire as GM may be primed to do that if both Conforto and Javier Baez bolt. Focusing just on the outfield, though, there are a number of players who can either take Conforto’s spot on their own or join forces to match his production in a Rays-style positional rotation.