With under a week to go until MLB Opening Day, the free-agent well is almost dry. But Michael Conforto is single-handedly keeping it from being completely barren.
Conforto is still on the market after seven productive seasons with the New York Mets. Few players of his caliber remain unsigned this late in the offseason, although there is a good reason he’s still unemployed. But soon, he’ll find a home and provide immediate pop to whatever lineup he’s joining.
At 29 years old, there are a few teams who would love Conforto’s lefty bat in their lineup. Though there is no better fit for either side than the former All-Star taking his talents to the South Side and joining the Chicago White Sox.
Michael Conforto is the best player left on the free-agent market
It’s hard to know what the future holds. Last spring, Conforto turned down a $100-plus million extension from the Mets and banked on himself to strike it rich in free agency. Today, he’ll likely have to settle for a one-year deal and do it all over again before 2023.
However, Conforto’s free-agent status has more to do with health than his play on the diamond.
Earlier this week, agent Scott Boras explained to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal that Conforto injured his shoulder during a January training session. The right fielder landed irregularly on his right throwing shoulder while diving for a ball and wanted to get fully healthy before resuming contract talks.
Conforto’s throwing strength is now back to normal and discussions with clubs resumed over a week ago, according to the super agent.
The 29-year-old has a brief injury history. His All-Star season in 2017 was cut short due to left shoulder surgery. He’s also dealt with hamstring issues, landing on the Injured List at the end of the 2020 season and again in May of last year.
That said, Conforto is productive when he’s on the field. The Northwest native has a solid .824 OPS for his career and three seasons with at least 27 home runs. However, his 2021 was a bit of a down year, as he slashed .232/.344/.384 with 14 homers in 125 games.
The White Sox make the most sense for Conforto
Chicago’s American League club had a season to remember in 2021. The Sox won 93 games to secure their first AL Central title since 2008 and only their second playoff appearance since then. However, their dream season ended in a forgettable four-game loss at the hands of the Houston Astros in the ALDS.
The White Sox are returning several All-Star-caliber hitters to their loaded lineup. 2020 MVP Jose Abreu is back, as are young outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. Chicago’s left side of the infield will also include the 2019 batting champion Tim Anderson and former top prospect Yoan Moncada.
Tony La Russa’s lineup is already one the best in baseball. But there is one hole, as Chicago went into the spring relying on a shaky right-field platoon of Andrew Vaughn, Adam Engel, and Leury Garcia. Even after acquiring A.J. Pollock from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, they could still use an above-average bat.
At this stage in the game, signing Conforto should be a no-brainer for the White Sox.
Conforto would start in right or at DH, giving Chicago another potential 30-homer hitter. He would be a tremendous left-handed power option, replacing and likely out-performing last year’s starting right fielder Nomar Mazara.
Additionally, his signing would put other players in more natural roles. The 34-year-old Pollock could be more of a fourth outfielder, a role that perfectly suits him at this stage in his career. Meanwhile, the Sox could also use the righty Vaughn and lefty Gavin Sheets at DH, or move one of them to left in order to put Jimenez at DH. Regardless, La Russa won’t have a shortage of options at his disposal.
Conforto will have other potential suitors swarming him. But none of them present an opportunity like the White Sox.
Michael Conforto would significantly boost the White Sox’s World Series odds
Assuming the Sox read this article and get inspired enough to hand eight figures to Conforto, their lineup would get an immediate boost. Not only that, but they’d fill the only true hole on this talented roster.
We already know the lineup would be elite upon adding Conforto. Their strong starting rotation is anchored by veterans Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, with Dylan Cease and Dallas Keuchel serving as support. And the bullpen is one of the best in the game thanks to All-Star Liam Hendriks and quality relievers Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, and Garrett Crochet.
According to USA Today, the Sox are currently 12-1 to win the World Series, tied with the New York Yankees for third in the American League. It’s not out of the question for those odds to improve considerably if they pony up to sign MLB’s last great free agent.
The White Sox have the majority of their 93-win roster back in tow, an easier division, and a desire to go all-in. Adding Conforto is the right move at the right time in order to get them to their ultimate goal.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.