Conforto: 'This year feels like a special one'

Aware that free agency is nearing, OF focused on taking a leap in 2020

February 21st, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Watching the 2019 World Series from afar, Mets outfielder paid particular attention to , a player three years older than him who, with a 1.003 OPS over four postseason rounds, dominated October for the champion Nationals.

Despite sharing an agent with Rendon, Conforto doesn’t know him more than in passing. Still, something about that performance clicked in his brain.

“I look at guys like Rendon -- he’s just the first one that comes to mind to me, being a guy that really doesn’t have crazy plus power, doesn’t really have crazy plus speed,” Conforto said. “He’s just a really, really, really tough guy to get out, a really tough guy to get off-balance, and that’s what I’ve always felt like I could be. And I have been in the past. I’m not going to compare myself to -- I don’t want to compare myself to him. He’s put up six-plus incredible seasons. But that’s who I’m striving to be.”

Days shy of his 27th birthday, with two seasons left under team control, Conforto intends to take that leap this season. That’s not to say he will become the same type of player as Rendon, who has less power than Conforto but more consistent bat-to-ball skills. It’s just to say he wants to enter the same stratosphere Rendon did in 2019, going from a solid, well-regarded player to a game-changing superstar.

“He’s always talking about getting better in all areas,” said Mets manager Luis Rojas, who called Conforto’s “sweet swing … something you fall in love with from the first time you see it.”

If Conforto succeeds in improving, he will enter next offseason staring at a significant payday when he reaches free agency after the 2021 season. He has made it known that he is open to negotiating a long-term deal with the Mets before he ever reaches that point, despite his agent Scott Boras’ reputation for shying away from such deals. The two sides have not talked seriously about an extension, and given the Mets’ uncertain ownership situation, it’s possible they never will. All Conforto can do is play, and thrive.

“Everyone always says that Scott is a big free agency guy and he’s a big fan of that, but Scott … is obviously going to give me the best advice that he feels he has for me as a player, and for my career,” Conforto said. “Ultimately, it’s my decision. I think it’s somewhat of a misconception about Scott and his clients. He wants what’s best for us. He’s going to give us his best advice. But at the end of the day, he’ll tell you, ‘It’s my client’s decision.’”

Now entrenched as the Mets’ starting right fielder, Conforto is coming off a year in which he hit .257 with a career-high 33 home runs and an .856 OPS. He says he never felt quite as steady as he did in 2017, his All-Star season, when he hit .279 with 27 homers and a .939 OPS before a major left shoulder injury cut short that campaign.

Over the offseason, Conforto moved to a new home in Arizona, where the weather is more conducive to baseball training than in the Pacific Northwest. He arrived this spring prepared to do damage; in his first swing of live batting practice, Conforto crushed a home run to center field off Michael Wacha. The next day, he went deep again against Rick Porcello, at a time when hitters are generally well behind pitchers.

Whether Conforto can stay hot, avoiding the peaks and valleys that have prevented him from reaching a Rendon-like level earlier in his career, remains to be seen. The closer Conforto moves to free agency, the louder the whispers about his future will grow.

“I could lie and say that two years is a long time, but the fact that this is my sixth year in Major League Spring Training -- it kind of blows my mind,” Conforto said. “I have the awareness that there is that uncertainty two years down the road of where I’m going to end up. I would love to stay here. This is all I know. … It’s a special thing to have the familiarity with an organization that I have. So we’ll see what happens two years down the road, but right now, this year feels like a special one. So let’s focus on that for now.”