Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Conforto Conundrum

The New York Mets have been showing signs recently that they were bouncing back from their early-season offensive struggles. Unfortunately, those travails returned with a vengeance yesterday. The Mets managed to scratch out only one single, solitary run against the Atlanta Braves over 14 innings of their doubleheader. As disappointing as that was, it's also rather miraculous that they were able to cash in that lone run for a split of the doubleheader. But that's the kind of season it's been for the Mets as they have battled continuous adversity to hang onto their tenuous lead in the NL East.

Many of their key hitters whose personal struggles have hampered the club's offense for much of the season have bounced back to more respectable numbers. Pete Alonso has seemingly rediscovered the best version of himself from his rookie campaign in 2019. James McCann has overcome his horrendous start to put up fairly solid numbers. Jeff McNeil has been slashing .344/.420/.443 in July, although his recent "fatigue" issues with his leg are somewhat worrisome. Dominic Smith has slashed .263/.337/.513 this month which, while not peak offense for Dom, is a huge improvement over his early numbers. Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis have both hit well all season, despite prolonged injury absences. The bench has contributed some solid numbers, also.

One key player who continues to struggle is RF Michael Conforto. Conforto struggled early, then missed a big chunk of time with a leg injury. He came back still ice cold but looked like he was turning it around with a game-winning home run in the final contest against the Pirates, then 2 more HR in the first game in Cincinnati. However, he's gone 2-24 since that game and is a big reason the Mets still struggle for offensive consistency.

The Mets' best plan for Michael Conforto likely continues to be penciling his name into the lineup and hoping that he can turn things around and be the consistent lefty power bat that he's been for his entire Major League career. Still, it's hard to deny how genuinely terrible he's been since returning from the injury on June 23. After slashing .136/.286/.182 over 8 games in June, Conforto's .179/.313/.388 line in July isn't much of an improvement. At some point, production is going to take precedent over patience. Conforto is going to start losing playing time unless he can show that he can sustain a hot streak longer than 3 or 4 games.

With 243 plate appearances in 2021, there's virtually no chance for Conforto to get his numbers up to anything resembling what we would have expected heading into the season. It's not going to help his cause when he looks for a deal from the Mets or other bidders as he enters free agency this offseason, although, in fairness, his MLB track record is long enough that he should be able to get a solid deal from someone. What matters for the 2021 Mets is that Conforto gets off the schneid and offers some lineup protection to Alonso, Smith, Davis, et al.

By all reports, the Mets are trying to add a bat at the deadline, although pitching is taking precedence. It's hard to picture any available bat helping the club as much as the boost they'd receive from Conforto just being able to put up his average numbers for the final two months + of this season. There's no reason to think that he won't be able to turn it around. Still, at some point, if he continues to look this bad, the Mets will be forced to give some of those ABs to someone else. They need some more-than-occasional production from their RF.

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For some reason, the local press is all over the potential issues with the Mets signing top draft pick Kumar Rocker today. Jack Ramsey tweeted about the problem a few days ago.

The gist of it is that the Mets and Rocker had agreed to a $6 million bonus pending a physical, but the physical turned up some apparently serious elbow issues. Just how serious, of course, no one is going to tell us.

The Mets have to sign Rocker by Sunday at 5 PM, or he goes back to Vanderbilt for a year and enters next season's draft. Of course, if he does that, he takes a chance of getting hurt and making much less money.

The situation is reminiscent of Brady Aiken, drafted #1 overall by the Astros in the 2014 draft. Aiken's physical revealed some elbow inflammation. The Astros tried to reduce their bonus offer from $6.5 million to $5 million. Aiken declined, reentered the draft the following year, but needed Tommy John surgery before the 2015 draft.

Aiken was taken with the 17th pick by Cleveland in 2015, signed for half of the revised Astros offer, and never made it past A ball. He hasn't pitched since 2019.

As for Kumar Rocker and the Mets, both parties have an incentive to reach a deal before Sunday. For Rocker, there's no guaranty that he'll do better next year than he can get from the Mets this year. For the Mets, although they would receive the 11th pick in next year's first round as compensation for not signing Rocker, it's unlikely that a player with that type of talent will fall to them. 

So the real question for the Mets has to be, just how bad is Rocker's elbow? If it's really bad, maybe they need to walk away. But maybe it's worth it to come to an agreement, even if Rocker needs Tommy John surgery in the near future. Lord knows so many young pitchers do.

I'd be worried if these were still the Wilpon Mets that any decision on Rocker would be made over financial concerns without considering other factors. I really don't have that apprehension with the Steve Cohen Mets. Lacking detailed info over just how bad Rocker's elbow truly is, I'm just going to have some faith that the best decision possible will be made by the club. I have to admit that I'm still hoping that Rocker signs, but I'll trust that it's for a solid reason if it doesn't happen.

By the way, sorry for dropping off for a few days. I've been ramping up my physical rehab from back and neck surgery back in late June, and it's been kicking my ass a little. I'm doing pretty well, a little more than a month removed from having major surgeries in two locations, but it's been a struggle at times. I won't waste anyone's time by posting work that's not my best to this site, and I wasn't capable of doing that for the last 3 days. I feel better today and hope that continues.

Please be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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