PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With free agency becoming more of a risky situation in baseball these days, some young players are choosing to sign long-term contracts to stay with their organizations.
For example, the Yankees recently locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, the Phillies signed Aaron Nola, the Twins signed Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado agreed to the mother of all extensions, an eight-year, $260 million pact one year before he was set to become a free agent.
The Mets are focused on possibly locking up 2018 National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, and there’s another member of their young core who could deal away his future arbitration and free- agency years for the security of a long-term contract.
Michael Conforto and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen on Friday both expressed an openness to discussing an extension for the 26-year-old outfielder, although there are no current talks.
“I would love to explore it,” Conforto said. “I’m all ears to anything. I really enjoy playing here, so I’m all ears.”
Conforto, who won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $4.03 million salary for this season.
Said Van Wagenen: “I think it’s our job to do two things. Identify what our players need to be successful, give them the tools to be successful and then recognize who has the talent to be part of our plan long-term.
“We made a lot of moves this offseason, made a lot of trades, but we also identified the players that we think are important now and are important in the future. Michael’s one of those guys.
“Ultimately, we have three years before we have to really think about losing him, but he’s going to be an important part of what we do, and I think the success he had the second half of the season, we expect it to continue. We’ll be open to having those conversations about his longer-term future as time goes on.”
Conforto’s agent is Scott Boras, who usually likes to take his clients to free agency. But Conforto said Boras’ stance won’t necessarily be his stance.
“Obviously, Scott has that track record, but ultimately he’s working for me,” Conforto said. “He always lets me know that. He’s going to advise me the best way he knows how, but everyone’s circumstances are different and he certainly understands that. When the time comes, we’ll talk about that, but I don’t think the time’s here yet. It’s just baseball for now.”
Conforto started slowly last season after coming back from shoulder surgery. He finished with a .243 batting average, 28 home runs and a .797 OPS. In 2017, he was an All-Star and was on his way to an outstanding season with a .939 OPS before injuring his shoulder on a swing on Aug. 24.
The Mets are looking for Conforto to be more like the player who had an .895 OPS in the second half of 2018 as his shoulder healed. That and his future with the club were topics of discussion in the offseason after Van Wagenen came aboard.
“I see myself as a long-term fixture in this program,” Conforto said. “Brodie said he feels the same way. Obviously, I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road in a couple years, but I would love to stay here long-term. I love it here. I love playing in New York. I feel like I’m going to be a person that’s going to be in this organization for a long time.”