Prior to the lockout, the Yankees had interest in outfielder Michael Conforto, according to The New York Post’s Mike Puma (Twitter link). The Bronx Bombers join the Rockies and Marlins as the only teams publicly linked to Conforto’s market, though over a dozen teams reportedly checked in on the former All-Star around the start of the free agent period.
The possibility of Conforto jumping from the Mets to the Yankees creates some natural Big Apple intrigue, plus Conforto would seem like a good fit in the Yankees’ lineup. The Bombers are short on left-handed bats, and though Conforto slots in most naturally as the new everyday left fielder, he can also play right field (in the event of an injury or just a DH day for Aaron Judge) or even center field in a pinch, should Aaron Hicks run into more injury woes.
The short porch at Yankee Stadium has been a boon to many a left-handed hitter, and it could help Conforto bounce back from an ill-timed down year just as he was on the verge of free agency. Conforto hit .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers over 479 PA — still above average (101 OPS+, 106 wRC+) production, though well behind the numbers he posted from 2015-20.
Conforto may have been hampered by a hamstring strain that cost him five weeks on the injured list, and teams will surely also note that Conforto’s 2021 Statcast numbers were largely unchanged from his career norms, apart from a drop in barrels and barrel rate. Still, the Yankees or any other interested clubs surely have some concern over guaranteeing a big multi-year contract (and giving up a draft pick, since Conforto rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer) to player coming off a rather underwhelming season.
With that platform year in mind, there was speculation that Conforto could be open to a shorter-term contract with an opt-out clause, or perhaps just a straight one-year deal. Such an arrangement would allow Conforto to quickly re-enter free agency next winter on what he certainly hopes will be on the heels of a stronger 2022 season, not to mention a normal offseason that won’t be interrupted by a lockout. Conforto is represented by the Boras Corporation, and Scott Boras is no stranger to unique contracts (such as the swell-opt) that allow his clients both some flexibility and the possibility of locking in more longer-term money.
The Yankees have done plenty of business with Boras in the past, and in fact another Boras client in Gerrit Cole represents the last QO-rejecting free agent the Yankees signed without regard to the draft pick compensation. Naturally, there is a vast difference between Cole and Conforto’s situations, and thus the Yankees likely have some wariness about surrendering their second-highest 2022 draft pick and $500K in international bonus pool money in exchange for signing Conforto.
That said, if Conforto was open to a shorter-term deal, he could fit into the Yankees’ reported preference for such contracts. New York offered a one-year, $25MM pact to another QO free agent in Justin Verlander before Verlander re-signed with the Astros, and the Yankees’ reported post-lockout plan is to monitor the shortstop market to see if any major names (i.e. the still-unsigned Carlos Correa or Trevor Story) could be amendable to a shorter-term arrangement. It stands to reason that the Yankees could expand this strategy beyond just shortstops, and to any prominent free agents like Conforto who can address other areas of need on the Bombers’ roster, while still not tying the club to a lengthy commitment.