I probably should have seen this coming a few weeks ago, after reporting that the Mets had offered an extension in the $100 million range to Michael Conforto in the spring of 2021 (we never reported that he “turned down” the offer, by the way — that was a word that came from aggregation, and implies formal talks that we did not say occurred).
After all, there is a certain segment of any fan base that is reflexively pro-management, and that love the local players until those players advocate for or bet on themselves. A similar strain popped up last weekend, when our report that Dominic Smith would rather play every day elsewhere than sit in New York landed as oddly controversial.
Naturally, when it emerged that Conforto could have had nine figures to remain a Met, the narrative emerged that he and his agent Scott Boras were some combination of greedy, selfish, and stupid.
“Michael Conforto Foolishly Misreading the Market is Costing Him Millions,” one headline read.
If I had predicted this reaction when reporting the number, I would have included this context: Conforto was right not to jump at the first offer, and he was only doing what many star players in his position have done for years.
This statement will apply no matter how much Conforto earns in free agency in the coming days or weeks. If it is less than $100 million, he still would have made a common and logical bet on himself.
It is standard for teams to offer extensions to star players with four or five years of service time. Here is a partial list of Boras clients who have turned down early offers: Alex Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, and Corey Seager. All made money by turning down money.
It doesn’t work this way for everyone. Sports, and life, present variables impossible to predict.
Conforto entered the 2021 season with an .843 career OPS. Compare that to George Springer (.857), who last year signed a six-year, $150 million contract; Bryant (.880), who just signed a seven-year, $182 million deal; or Seager (.870), who landed a contract for 10 years and $325 million.
Want more? Anthony Rendon, .854 OPS, $245 million. Jose Altuve, .821 OPS, $162.3 million.
Heading into last season, it was reasonable for Conforto to consider himself in the league of these players.
Some were champions, and some were standout defenders. OPS is hardly the entire picture of a player. But the OPS/money comparison to the other deals is more than enough to beg the question of why he would even consider signing a $100-$120 million deal without trying the open market.
We all know what happened next. Conforto contracted the COVID-19 virus, which appeared to have an impact on performance. He suffered a hamstring injury. He had to marinate every day in the Mets’ ugly 2021 clubhouse culture.
It all combined for a horribly timed down season. Conforto batted just .232 with 14 homers and a .729 OPS. Then there was a lockout. Then he injured his shoulder in January.
Conforto’s experience in free agency has been tougher than expected (though, not for nothing, he’s still 29 years old, a top offensive player, and will be fine). But athletes are not programmed to hedge, or to bet on worst-case scenarios. They do not become successful by saying, “You know what, I might have a down year, so I should sign this below-market deal.”
Some win when they bet on themselves, and some get unlucky and lose. But given Conforto’s career numbers from 2015-2020, and his reputation in the game as a solid, mature person, it made the bet a logical one at the time.
And that will be true no matter how his free agency resolves.
Source: Yahoo Sports