The New York Yankees missed out on Michael Brantley on the free agent market Sunday afternoon, electing to sign a one-year, $12M deal with the Houston Astros. While the Astros continue to get stronger and retain talent, despite losing Justin Verlander to the New York Mets, the Yankees have done some bolstering of their own.
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The Yankees must now turn their attention to Michael Conforto:
The top free agent left-fielder on the market is Michael Conforto, and the Yankees have to make a decision fast before he is inevitably plucked and the options dwindle. General manager Brian Cashman may look to fill the position via trade with a player like Max Kepler of the Minnesota Twins. However, giving up assets and legitimate contributors may not be the best move, especially since the team can simply just spend money to land a player with upside.
Conforto is only one year removed from rejecting a $100 million deal. He ended up sustaining a shoulder injury that shut him down for the entire 2022 season, putting him in a state of desperation. It is obvious that Conforto is trying to find the highest bidder, but even though the market has handed out lofty contracts, there is concern about his injury and his return to baseball after missing an entire season.
Nonetheless, his upside is undeniable at 29 years old. The lefty hitter put together a solid 2021 season with the Mets across 125 games. He hit .232 with a 34.4% on-base rate, 14 homers, and 55 RBIs.
Back in 2019, he slugged 33 homers, indicating he has plenty of power to maximize the short right porch in Yankee Stadium. Given the shift is banned moving forward, Conforto and his 40.8% pull rate should boost his batting average and on-base percentage, which are already solid, to begin with.
A two-year deal worth $20 million, including a player option for the second season, might get the job done. This would allow Conforto to play on a competitive team and leverage a good season into a big contract at 30 years old.
It is also vital to note that Conforto is a good defensive outfielder, hosting a perfect fielding percentage in 2018, the last time he featured in left field with the Mets. Across 2045 innings in LF over his career, he features a .989 fielding percentage, including 10 defensive runs saved above average and 8 outs above average.
Considering Kepler from Minnesota has never played left field before, there is a decent risk involved. Conforto‘s experience suggests he would transition seamlessly, and given his upside as an offensive player, this should be an easy decision for the Yankees depending on his price tag.
It is possible that the former Met is demanding more money than his market dictates, especially after rejecting such a lofty contract in 2021. Leveraging a good opportunity with the Yankees into a bigger deal might be his best option at this point in time.