Red Sox: Michael Conforto would solidify Boston’s outfield
Conforto would help push a talented Red Sox outfield over the hump
Ever since the December trade that brought Jackie Bradley Jr. back to the Red Sox as part of the return for Hunter Renfroe, fans have been debating about whether the former ALCS MVP should be in the starting lineup come Opening Day.
On one hand, JBJ is a Gold Glove outfielder with a highlight reel full of incredible diving catches and a monster arm, but his offensive skills have reached an all-time low (.163/.236/.261 with a 34 OPS+ in 2021, compared to Renfroe’s .259/.315/.501 and 112 OPS+).
On the other hand, Renfroe likely won’t top his 2021 production ever again and while his arm can rival that of Jackie’s, his defense trailed off as last season progressed. What could end up being Renfroe’s career year also netted Boston two of Milwaukee’s top-20 prospects at the time, Alex Binelas and David Hamilton.
With free agent outfielders such as Seiya Suzuki, Nick Castellanos, and Jorge Soler coming off the board in the last few days, fans on both sides of the Great JBJ Debate are wondering if Chaim Bloom and company are happy enough with the outfield as is, even with the expected drop in production at the plate, or if the Red Sox are waiting for the most opportune time to add.
The way I see it, Boston needs to do something to help an already talented Boston outfield featuring Alex Verdugo and Kiké Hernandez reach their full potential. I have no issue with JBJ having a spot on the roster — he’s a veteran guy who’s won in Boston and he’s universally seen as one of the nicest guys in the league. I just don’t believe he’s at a stage in his career where he is valuable as a full-time bat. I would love to see him used as a defensive replacement late in games and start occasionally when others need a day off (and I don’t think he’d have a problem with that either).
But in order stay afloat in an AL East that looks to be more competitive than it was last season, the Red Sox should look to a younger, more consistent bat to fill that everyday outfield role — and I think former New York Met Michael Conforto is the perfect choice at this point in time.
I view Conforto as the closest thing to providing offensive production similar to Renfroe’s 2021 while actually being a better defensive outfielder at the same time. Conforto has been consistent across his career, and while his 2021 stats won’t blow you away (.232/.344/.384, 14 home runs, 55 RBI, 101 OPS+), his career 162 game average is solid: .255/.356/.468, 28 home runs, 85 RBI, with a 124 OPS+.
From 2017 to 2020, Conforto slashed .265/.369/.495, collecting 86 doubles, 97 home runs, 273 RBI, and a 134 OPS+. Those are really good numbers for any Major League player at any point in their career.
Renfroe has had four 25+ home run seasons, but until last season had never put all of his tools together at the same point, and obviously the Red Sox were uncertain that he could maintain that level of production into his age-30 season. Meanwhile, JBJ will be entering his age-32 season, and after last season, it’s almost a certainty he won’t post anything comparative to his 2016 (.267/.349/.486, 118 OPS+) or 2020 (.283/.364/.450, 116 OPS+) seasons again.
Conforto is basically in the same position Renfroe was in as a free agent last offseason – a talented former first-rounder in need of an opportunity to play everyday to prove there’s still potential to live up to a handful of years into their careers.
Suppose the Red Sox do ink Conforto to a two-year contract before the season, and he plays up to his career averages. Boston could flip him for another pair of prospects, in theory selling high for the second offseason in a row, or he could play another year at Fenway while outfield prospects like Gilberto Jimenez and Nick Decker mature. Conforto could also help mentor a young, left handed outfielder like Jarren Duran while he adjusts to the Major League level.
In signing Conforto, the Red Sox front office would be bringing in a solid everyday player with some name recognition that will almost certainly be more valuable than JBJ and I have a feeling that his swing would play really well at Fenway Park. In baseball, good help is always appreciated, and Conforto would be a worthy signing on the right deal.