Not once this offseason did Michael Conforto go searching for news about his future with the Mets. But it found him anyway, in the form of questions from his workout partners.
One of them was Matt Boyd, the Tigers lefty who filled in Conforto on rumors that he could be part of a deal involving veteran outfielder J.D. Martinez. Another was Rays outfielder Steven Souza, who arrived at the gym one day and told Conforto that they might soon be teammates.
“This offseason, I heard a number of things,” Conforto said recently at camp. “But they’re all just rumors. I don’t really put too much into it unless I hear from the Mets or my agency.”
Ultimately, Conforto never received a call, a sign of the Mets’ continued commitment to the former first-round pick who already has endured a career’s worth of ups and downs. For all the rumors, including a few that have resurfaced during spring training, general manager Sandy Alderson this week looked to squash the idea of moving in a different direction by trading Conforto for a veteran such as Martinez.
“The notion that we came close to trading him in the offseason is very untrue,” Alderson said “He’s too valuable to us in the long term. [He] was asked about quite a bit. Never gave it any serious thought.”
So, Conforto arrived in camp with his long-term place in the organization seemingly secure. He was bolstered by conversations with Alderson and manager Terry Collins, many of which came during Conforto’s 2016 season.
Conforto finished the year hitting .220, the product of a scorching hot start and then a sudden downturn that earned him a ticket back to the minor leagues.
“It gives you a sense of kind of where you stand. I know I’ve heard, and I’ve had conversations with Terry, Sandy, them just expressing their confidence in me. A number of the coaches. Everybody’s telling me — this spring, last year when I was struggling — they all told me ‘hey we know who you are, we’ve seen what you can do.’ Baseball is tough and the struggle is tough but they have all the confidence in me to work my way back to where I want to be.”
Still, despite that endorsement of his potential, his immediate spot in a crowded outfield remains uncertain. And that might not change even with what has been a strong start to spring training.
Conforto, 24, is hitting .409 with two homers in Grapefruit League games, with some of that production coming against lefthanded pitching. He’s also looked more agile in rightfield after trimming down during the offseason.
“I’m sure he’s very happy,” Alderson said. “We’re happy. He’s been the player over the last week that we thought we had when we drafted him and when he came up in 2015, and when he played early last season, and in Las Vegas. Most of his professional career has been very positive.”
Should Conforto keep performing throughout the spring, it could make an already difficult decision for the Mets even more challenging.
“The best situation for us is that everybody plays well, that’s the perfect situation,” Alderson said. “Whatever decision you have to make, the fact that everybody has played well reassures one about the future as opposed to the next week or two weeks.”
But even before his arrival in camp, Conforto said he has mentally readied himself for whatever decision the Mets make.
“Whatever ends up happening, I’ll be prepared for it,” he said. “Nothing’s going to discourage me from what I want to do this year no matter what happens. If I do have to go down to Triple-A, I’ll work my butt off until I get back up to where I want to be.”