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Michael Conforto trying to focus on Mets, not pending free agency

Mets rightfielder Michael Conforto runs to the dugout

Mets rightfielder Michael Conforto runs to the dugout during an MLB game against the Cardinals at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For Michael Conforto, these waning days of the Mets’ season come with a harsh reality: They might be the waning days of his Mets career, too.

A free agent this offseason, Conforto is fully aware of that possibility, but he is trying to block that out — the richest and probably biggest decision of his life — for the sake of his and the team’s performance.

"I definitely have thought about it. I mean, the options are wide open," he said Tuesday after batting practice. "Very well could not be the end of my time here. It may be, but it very well couldn’t be . . . I’m just focused on finishing the season strong with my teammates, hopefully not in early October. We want to make that postseason push. And then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there."

One option for Conforto and the Mets: the qualifying offer. That is when a team extends a one-year contract at a designated value — for 2021 it was $18.9 million, and for 2022 it will be around the same — in early November and the player has 10 days to accept it.

 

That is how the Mets retained Marcus Stroman this season, for example, and it has worked out wonderfully for both sides.

The Mets have received the best year of Stroman’s career. He has been their most effective and reliable starting pitcher, including a 2.87 ERA heading into his start against the Cardinals on Tuesday, leading a rotation that has mostly missed Jacob deGrom.

And Stroman, meanwhile, has set himself up nicely for another venture into free agency this offseason.

Players sometimes like a one-year deal to re-establish or solidify their value on the open market. Conforto, still only 28, might find such a strategy worth considering, especially given his underwhelming offensive season: .226 average, .344 OBP and .376 slugging percentage entering play Tuesday, a level of production that qualifies as about league-average but well below his personal norms.

Noah Syndergaard, who hasn’t pitched in almost two years because of Tommy John surgery and setbacks, is another strong qualifying-offer candidate.

"It’s too early to speak on that," Conforto said. "We’ll see what happens at the end of the year."

Conforto’s comments came after he met with pediatric cancer patients on the field, part of his "Conforto Cares" program that he has done with the Mets’ help for the past few seasons.

During the pandemic, his hospital trips and the kids’ ballpark visits have often turned into Zoom calls. But the community endeavor — now partnered with the Cohen Children's Medical Center, named after Mets owner Steve Cohen and his wife, Alex, after their donation — is emblematic of the life Conforto has built here.

"I will say, I grew up here and I learned a lot here," he said. "My professional career was here."

Conforto has hit much like his regular self late in the season, posting a .273/.381/.462 slash line since the start of August. He has been hot enough lately that manager Luis Rojas has penciled him into the No. 3 spot in the lineup regularly.

Whether that will be a large enough sample size to convince interested teams that the early-season struggles were an aberration, he isn’t sure.

Either way, 2021 has not been the contract-year launching pad to a nine-figure deal that he expected.

"That’d be a question to ask the teams. From my perspective, I’m trying to build upon the things that I’ve done the last couple months," he said. "I believe I’m just getting started in my career. No matter what next season looks like, whether or not it’s what I wanted it to be when I started this season, I’m just getting started."

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