Are the Rangers the likeliest spot for Michael Conforto?

The Rangers made Michael Conforto an offer over the summer and have maintained interest in the free-agent outfielder throughout the offseason, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. That interest has led to recent talks with agent Scott Boras, who said earlier in the offseason that Conforto was eyeing a two-year contract with an opt-out opportunity after the first season.

Texas isn’t alone in courting Conforto. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that both the Blue Jays and Mets are still showing interest as well. (The Mets, of course, are the only team for which Conforto has ever played.) Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post adds (via Twitter) that the Rockies checked in but are not seen as a likely landing spot. Saunders lists the Cubs, Marlins and Rangers as teams more prominently involved in the Conforto bidding. Seattle and Houston were linked to Conforto earlier in the offseason, though the Astros’ reunion with Michael Brantley seemingly takes them out of the Conforto mix.

The Rangers are the most commonly cited suitor for Conforto, though that hardly ensures that he’ll be suiting up at Globe Life Field in 2023. Still, Texas has had a clear need for at least one outfielder all season but has thus far focused its free agent and trade pursuits on pitchers. Conforto, 30 in March, would be a risky investment on a multi-year deal but would come with a substantial upside; the former first-round pick posted a combined .265/.369/.495 batting line with 97 home runs, 86 doubles, three triples, a 12.7% walk rate and 24.4% strikeout rate in 1959 plate appearances from 2017-20.

Conforto’s platform year before reaching free agency, however, was disappointing. He followed that strong four-year run with a more pedestrian .232/.344/.384 batting line in his age-28 season in 2021. Conforto still rejected a qualifying offer from the Mets, banking on a team being willing to forfeit a draft pick based on the strength of his overall track record. That didn’t happen prior to last winter’s lockout, though, and Conforto went on to suffer an offseason shoulder injury that required surgery in the spring. Despite interest from the Astros and the apparent offer from the Rangers, Conforto did not sign over the summer, instead ostensibly preferring to wait for an offseason deal and a fully healthy return to baseball. (Had he played last summer, it’s believed he’d have been limited to designated hitter duties.)

Rosenthal suggests that some teams are concerned about Conforto’s throwing in the wake of that surgery, though he’s currently throwing from a distance of 150 feet. For the Rangers, Conforto could potentially slot into left field, given Adolis Garcia‘s presence in right field. That might help to mitigate some concerns about his arm strength — if Texas even has any at the moment. Rangers left fielders were far and away the worst in MLB last season, batting a combined .186/.253/.255. Every one of those rate stats ranked dead-last in the Majors, as did the resulting 47 wRC+. Texas, incredibly, gave 13 different players a look in left field last season.

While the Rangers stand as an obvious and perhaps the best fit for Conforto, his other reported suitors are all sensible landing spots, to varying degrees. The Blue Jays have a nearly all-right-handed lineup and have seen Lourdes Gurriel Jr.‘s offensive contributions wane in recent seasons; Gurriel still hit for a strong .291 average in 2022, but his power vanished and his defensive grades have never been particularly strong. GM Ross Atkins said just yesterday that his focus was shifting to upgrading the offense — ideally by adding a lefty bat who could slot into the outfield. Comfort checks a lot of boxes for them. As with the Rangers, Conforto could likely slot into left field with Toronto, lessening potential concerns about his throwing arm.

The Mets, meanwhile, already have a crowded roster and a bloated payroll, but owner Steve Cohen and GM Billy Eppler seem undeterred by either of those factors. Conforto could factor into Buck Showalter’s lineup as a left fielder and designated hitter, perhaps pushing Daniel Vogelbach into more of a bench role than the platoon DH role for which he’s currently set. It might not be an especially clean fit, but the Mets perhaps feel they’d be a deeper and better team by adding Conforto, which could well bump Darin Ruf (who struggled following his acquisition over the summer) or high-priced catcher James McCann from the roster.

The Cubs’ outfield is largely set, with Ian Happ, Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki lined up from left to right, but there’s plenty of opportunity for Conforto to join the mix and rotate through the outfield corners and designated hitter. Neither the Rockies nor Marlins are ideal fits, but it’s nevertheless notable that both have looked into a potential match with Conforto. Both teams need center fielders more than a corner outfielder, however. Colorado could push Randal Grichuk to center, but he’s generally graded out as a better defender in right field. Miami, meanwhile, already has a pair of corner outfielders — Avisail Garcia, Jorge Soler — in search of a rebound, though the latter figures to spend the bulk of his time at designated hitter in 2023.

Between a fair number of teams with interest and this offseason’s rash of free-agent deals that allow players to opt back into the market as early as next offseason, Conforto’s chances of reaching that goal of a multi-year deal with an opt-out seems attainable.

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