Even with the big deals done and each of Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón set to don pinstripes in 2023, there’s plenty of speculation that the Yankees are still looking at outfielders. With Judge and Harrison Bader almost certainly locking down right and center field respectively, there still is some sort of hole in left. Aaron Hicks is on the roster, but he’s really struggled and shouldn’t be counted on to be a full-time starter. Oswaldo Cabrera is also a potential option, having played there late in the season and in the playoffs, but he hadn’t really done so in his minor league career prior to that. He showed some potential, but it would definitely be a gamble for him to be the choice for starting left fielder next year.
While the likes of Andrew Benintendi have been speculated about the most, there are some other options out there. Should Michael Conforto be on that list?
A former Met, Conforto has been an option out on the market for a while now. He was actually a free agent after the 2021 season, but didn’t end up signing anywhere. That was likely due to both having the qualifying offer attached to him and suffering a shoulder injury during the offseason. The injury forced him to undergo surgery, and would’ve kept him out for a decent chunk of the season. At that point, he decided to sit out the entirety of the 2022 season, and even reportedly rebuffed a two-year contract offer from the Astros to come in for their playoff push. His agent, Scott Boras, said that wasn’t exactly accurate, but it wouldn’t be shocking that teams would’ve kicked the tires on seeing if they could’ve gotten him to DH for the stretch run last year.
That’s because, at his best, Conforto is a top-tier hitter. He has a career 124 wRC+ and 19.3 fWAR, and has hit 132 home runs over his seven-year major league tenure. His peak was an All-Star appearance in 2017, which featured a 147 wRC+.
The major draw back is, of course, that he just missed an entire season due to a shoulder injury. Now, part of that was Conforto probably just deciding to sit it out entirely rather than try and come back later in that year. On the other hand, if teams had been confident enough in his health to give him a longer-term deal, it’s hard to imagine him passing that up just to still be a free agent a year later.
The other draw back is that 2021 was arguably the worst of his career so far. The only time Conforto put up a lower wRC+ and fWAR was back in 2016, when he was just 23 and appeared in fewer games. In 125 games in 2021, Conforto put up a 106 wRC+ in 125 games. There wasn’t any sort of obvious drop in exit velocity, and in general his peripherals weren’t too far off his career norms, but there was a dip across the board in his production when he last played.
As far as defense goes, Conforto doesn’t grade out that impressively. Since 2017-18, when his defense rated a little better than average according to fWAR, he’s dropped every year since. Beyond that, it’s now been a little while since he’s played left field. The 2018 season was the last time the Mets put him there, and he was exclusively in right the last two seasons he played. He certainly would not supplant Judge in right or Bader in center. Left field in Yankee Stadium is not exactly the trickiest spot to play, and he does have over 2000 MLB innings of experience at the position, but it is notable that he hasn’t not spent much time there recently.
Conforto could very well be a solid gamble. He’s almost certainly not going to get a big deal, with MLB Trade Rumors predicting him at one-year, $15 million. Whoever gets him could very well potentially get a big win, if he can come close to replicating his career norms. But after locking down Judge, it seems like the Yankees are probably more focused on people they feel like are sure things in order to contend next season. Conforto could be very good, but he’s far from a risk-free bet.