Atlanta Braves could solve left field with a little Conforto
By Fred Owens
Atlanta Braves left fielders provided little offensive support and didn’t defend well; the club has to address the black hole in left field to contend.
Sayin’ the Atlanta Braves have a serious problem in left field is understating the issue. The quartet of Adam Duvall, Robbie Grossman, Marcell Ozuna, and Eddie Rosario are the only Atlanta Braves who recorded more than 29 AB while playing left field last year.
Their defense wasn’t anything to write home about either.
The Braves acquired outfielder Sam Hilliard from Colorado, but he looks like a fifth outfielder in the Heredia mold for less money. No word on his ability to wield a cutlass.
The market for left fielders of quality is slim. Last week, Sam wrote about Mitch Haniger, and Mitchell suggested Michael Brantley. Currently, Braves Twitter is all aflutter about acquiring Bryan Reynolds, though most of the trades suggested might not be enough for a box of Reynolds Wrap.
Haniger is an odd injury waiting to happen, and Brantley is 35 with a bat that invokes memories of Markakis. He’s going to get on base and run into one now and then but lacks consistent power.
However, there’s a 29-year-old left fielder on the market who averages 28 homers, a .359 OBP, and .468 SLG% over 162 games and plays Gold Glove caliber left field.
It’s true he’s coming off a serious injury, but there’s every indication he’s fit and ready to play. That’s why the Atlanta Braves should be talking to Michael Conforto.
Conforto spent time on the IL for bruised wrist in 2017 and dislocated his shoulder as the Mets were wrapping up the season and missed Spring training in 2018, but returned to hit 28 homers and bat .243/.350/.448/.797 with a .342 wOBA, 119 wRC+ and post 3.7 fWAR.
His shoulder injury officially resurfaced in 2022 but was probably bothering him throughout the 2021 season. Conforto didn’t want to give up on his walk year and posted his worst-ever numbers.
His down year didn’t stop the Mets from giving him a qualifying offer worth $18.4M when the season ended, which he quickly rejected.
Aside from the shoulder injury, Conforto’s IL history includes seven days on the concussion IL in 2019 and 10 days on the IL for hamstring strains in 2020 and 2021.
Atlanta Braves need this bat
Despite batting a sub-par .232/.344/.384/.729 in 2021, among all (103) qualified outfielders from 2018 through 2021, Conforto ranks:
- 13th with 11.5 fWAR
- 16th with 432 hits,
- 19th with a .360 OBP
- T 21st with 83 homers,
- 21st with 124 wRC+
- 27th with a.350 wOBA
On November 30, MLB’s David Adler added some comparisons worth noting.
"Conforto barreled 10.8% of his contact from 2019-21 . . .he hit the ball with the perfect exit velocity and launch angle to be a home run or an extra-base hit.(Anthony Rizzo) . . .has a 9.0% barrel rate over his last three seasons . . . (Rizzo and Conforto) had nearly identical extra-base-hit totals Rizzo (in the same period) has 119, Conforto has 118."
Among 33 LHH outfielders with 1100 PA in that span, Conforto ranks:
- Fifth in home runs
- Seventh in OBP
- Seventh in wRC+
- Ninth in hits
- Tenth in wOBA
The Mets jammed Conforto into center field, but he excels in left, putting up 10 DRS, a 7.1 UZR, and eighth outs above average there in 2045 innings between 2015 and 2018.
How much would it cost?
On November 3, Jon Heyman wrote that Conforto would get one year at $14m.
On November 4, Jim Bowden Projected Conforto would receive a two-year, $34M deal with an opt-out.
Joel Sherman reported that Boras is seeking the kind of deal Bowden suggested because it worked for Rodon.
A few days later, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ($$) projected a one-year, $19 million deal.
We know the Atlanta Braves don’t give opt-outs and I think Heyman is low on his estimate, so I’ll agree with McDaniel on one year and $18 to $19M with a mutual option. I have no idea if that’s in Anthopoulos’ vocabulary, but it sounds good…doesn’t it?
That’s a wrap
There’s no such thing as a guaranteed signing of an injured player, but Conforto’s younger than Haniger and Brantley and because he’s younger without a record of serious injuries, there’s a higher probability he’ll remain healthy.
Every outfielder on the market carries inherent risk, and Conforto is the most likely to succeed. As I wrote a couple of days ago, whether the Atlanta Braves will meet the ask is another question entirely.