Marlins, Rangers Interested In Michael Conforto

6:41pm: The Rangers are also involved in the Conforto market, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Texas general manager Chris Young told reporters coming out of the Winter Meetings they were hoping to address left field, where rookies Bubba ThompsonEzequiel Duran and Josh Smith look like the in-house favorites for playing time. That corner outfield vacancy makes Conforto a fairly obvious target, particularly with Andrew Benintendi’s five-year deal with the White Sox taking the top free agent left fielder off the board.

1:09pm: The Marlins have shown some interest in free agent outfielder Michael Conforto, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Heyman also lists the Astros and Cubs, both of whom have been previously linked to the Boras Corporation client, as teams with interest.

Miami entered the offseason searching for offensive help. They’ve done essentially nothing thus far, with the only noteworthy move being the non-tender of Brian Anderson. The Marlins hit just .230/.294/.363 in 2022, finishing 27th in on-base percentage and 28th in slugging. Spacious Marlins Park hasn’t done their batters any favors, but Miami’s offense was one of the league’s worst even after accounting for home environment. By measure of wRC+, which adjusts for park, the Marlins were 12 percentage points worse than the average hitting team — the sixth-lowest mark in the league.

Most of the Miami offense underperformed, with second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. their only standout hitter. That gives general manager Kim Ng and her staff myriad positions they could look to address. The outfield, which Miami thought they’d fixed last offseason, posed particular problems. Avisaíl García fell flat with a career-worst .224/.266/.317 showing in the first season of a four-year free agent deal. Jorge Soler, inked to a three-year deal after a massive postseason showing in 2021, managed just a .207/.295/.400 mark with subpar defense in left field.

The Marlins gave extended auditions to young players Jesús Sánchez and Bryan De La Cruz. Neither ran away with an everyday job, with both reaching base at a sub-.300 clip. Sánchez and De La Cruz each showed interesting power potential, but they both struck out more often than average while walking at a subpar clip. Of that group, only Sánchez — who spent most of the season’s second half in Triple-A after being optioned — hits left-handed.

Bringing in a lefty-swinging outfielder makes plenty of sense, and Conforto’s one of the more interesting options available. The 29-year-old missed all of 2022 recovering from an offseason injury to his right shoulder that required surgery. He’s not expected to have any health limitations by next spring, but the lost year raises some questions about how he’ll respond after such a long layoff.

Conforto wasn’t even at his best before the surgery, as his 2021 campaign was his worst in a while. He hit .232/.344/.384 over 479 plate appearances for the division-rival Mets in 2021. That’d still be an upgrade over the production Miami received from any of their outfielders last season, but it’s well shy of the .265/.369/.495 cumulative line Conforto had posted from 2017-20.

With his value at a low ebb, Conforto is looking for a bounceback opportunity. Agent Scott Boras has suggested he expects Conforto land a multi-year guarantee this offseason, one that allows him to opt out and retest free agency at the end of the 2023 campaign. Boras reiterated that sentiment when speaking with Anthony DiComo of yesterday (Twitter link). That’s a rather lofty goal for a player coming off a season lost to shoulder surgery, and it remains to be seen if a team is willing to guarantee him multiple years.

While Conforto’s bat would be a welcome addition to the Miami lineup, he’s not an ideal fit from a positional perspective. He hasn’t played a single inning of center field since 2019, and his early-career defensive metrics there were very poor. Conforto’s a solid defender in the corner outfield, but he’s even less likely to be an option up-the-middle after surgery on his throwing shoulder. Miami reportedly prefers to push Soler more fully into designated hitter work in 2023, so Conforto and García could take the corners. That’d require leaning on Sánchez, De La Cruz or JJ Bleday again in center field, where each player is probably miscast. Of course, with an already shallow center field market having been picked clean, the Marlins may no longer have a viable alternative to rolling out another mediocre defensive outfield.

The Astros have been tied to Conforto on a number of occasions this offseason, as they’re reportedly looking to install a left-handed bat into the corner outfield mix. The Cubs were previously linked to Conforto as well, although that was before they signed Cody Bellinger to play center field. That filled Chicago’s outfield, which already contained Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ in the corners. The Cubs don’t have a great option at designated hitter, though, which is presumably where they’re eyeing Conforto at this point. Seattle and both New York franchises were also linked to the Oregon State product at points this offseason.

Miami’s facing some competition in the Conforto market, but he shouldn’t be unattainable from a financial perspective. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote in September that owner Bruce Sherman was willing to sign off on a fairly modest payroll bump, but they’ve yet to dip into free agency thus far. The Fish have reportedly put forth an offer to former Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who remains unsigned. Heyman writes Miami appears willing to make a two-year commitment to the 38-year-old, who’s coming off a .278/.350/.438 showing in Los Angeles.

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