Cubs Among Teams Connected to Free Agent Outfielder Michael Conforto

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Cubs Among Teams Connected to Free Agent Outfielder Michael Conforto

Chicago Cubs

A few weeks ago, without much of a sense on where he actually stands right now in terms of health and baseball ability, free agent outfielder Michael Conforto was connected to the Cubs, among other teams. It was hard at that time to evaluate the connection, knowing so little about where he was in his recovery from the shoulder injury and subsequent surgery that cost him the 2022 season (which, itself, was to be a rebound from a down 2021 season). It was his throwing shoulder, by the way.

Today, Conforto’s agent Scott Boras was making the rounds, indicating that his client is healthy, and wants a pillow contract:

In other words, Conforto is looking for the protection of a two-year deal (i.e., a decent-sized guarantee if things go sideways in 2023), but the ability to hit the market again next offseason in advance of his age 31 season if he rakes this year. Makes sense to me from his perspective, though it’s hard to see how he could get a deal like that unless it was pretty darn modest (two years and $25 million, opt out after the first year and $10 million? I’m REALLY spitballing because it’s almost impossible to guess given his time away and without access to the medicals).

Anyway, in timing that I’m sure is entirely coincidental, Jon Heyman reports three teams today in connection with Conforto: the Marlins, the Astros, and the Cubs.

There’s a lot about Conforto’s situation that makes the connection to the Cubs easy to understand. He’s going to be a short-term guy trying to bounce back, and if he’s right, he could wind up and impactful source of lefty offense. It’s something the Cubs really need, and that profile should sound familiar to you, given the Cody Bellinger signing.

But then again, whereas the Bellinger signing had the floor of his great glove in center field and at first base, where the Cubs could really use that glove, it’s not entirely clear how Conforto would fit in positionally. He has demonstrated the ability to play all over the outfield in the past, but he was supplanted in center field by Brandon Nimmo in New York, so I’m not sure how well he still plays the position. And without the ability to play all three outfield spots, it’s a lot harder to see an obvious role with the Cubs. If he *CAN* play all three spots, then yes, sure, give him a shot. There are ways to coordinate starts and optimize match-ups and create depth for inevitable injuries.

Again, it’s pretty tough for me to firmly plant my flag on this one in any particular direction, because it’s so hard to know what you’re getting on the physical side. Offseason injuries that lead to offseason surgeries that cost an entire season are just so weird; and I’ll be honest, shoulder injuries always give me some concern.

It’s worth tracking, because there’s upside there on a short-term deal. It’s fair, I think, to land on a couple of ifs: if he’s definitely healthy and if he can definitely play center field, then you say sure, why not? With the serious injuries to Alexander Canario keeping him out for the foreseeable future, with Brennen Davis needing a lot more healthy time at Triple-A, with Darius Hill and Yonathan Perlaza types being on the fence as future bench guys, it’s not like Conforto is going to be blocking anyone. Not realistically, anyway, and not in a fourth outfielder role.

From the previous write-up, for more context on his 2021 season, and the bat he was before that:

Last offseason, a 29-year-old Conforto was coming off a down year offensively, but had otherwise been great for four straight seasons: .265/.369/.495 (133 wRC+). That’s better than Kris Bryant (132 wRC+) and Anthony Rizzo (130 wRC+) over that same period of time.

Given that track record, and the fact that I still don’t think his 2021 season was as bad under the hood* as it looked on the surface, you could understand why I’d be interested on behalf of the Cubs.

Conforto’s 2021 Season:

wOBA: .322
xwOBA: .350

In 2021, Conforto’s walk rate (12.3%) and strikeout rate (21.7%) were both better than his career averages, while his average exit velocity, launch angle, barrel rate, hard%, and plate discipline data were all generally in line with his career marks. By contrast, and perhaps doing a lot of the heavy lifting here, his career .305 BABIP, set in over 2,500 plate appearances before the 2021 season, dropped all the way down to .276 in 2021. That’s a big difference. And I was willing to bet on that normalizing while he was still south of 30.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.