This was going to be relatively simple for Michael Conforto.
He was going to make $8 million this year. Then, with a now familiar season of above-average production, Conforto was looking at a 2021 of no less than $12 million.
At that point, as Conforto entered free agency, Scott Boras would come up with a witty term or acronym to explain Conforto’s buffet of assets: the ability to play center, sub-30 age, lefty power bat and strong clubhouse status — how about CAPS (Center/Age/Power/Status)? Let’s say for argument Boras would have targeted the range he once procured Shin-Soo Choo (seven years, $130 million) and Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million). Save the phone call, Scott. I know you think it should be more, this is just an exercise.
But, of course, you have heard of COVID-19 and so nothing is going to be relatively simple.
No one should cry for players (or owners), most of whom will still be paid handsomely at some point and make out far better than so much of the country (and world) financially devastated by the pandemic.
Still, MLB already is bracing for the ripple effects of a shutdown. Without new revenue streams with television or streaming partners, MLB owners will endure substantial losses this season with promises of more of the same in 2021 if fans are still forbidden from returning to stadiums or fewer of them come because of lingering fears of being part of a large gathering.
Since The Post is doing its Player Profile today on Conforto, I thought he would be an interesting vessel to examine near-term issues when it comes to player pay.
For this year, Conforto will make anywhere from a prorated portion of his $8 million salary down to — if there are no games — the few hundred thousand dollars he was guaranteed as part of MLB’s $170 million payout to players for April and May.
There also are provisions in the agreement reached in late March between MLB and the union to protect arbitration eligible players whose stats will be lesser in a partial or lost season. But it is difficult to see how there won’t be an economic downturn in arbitration payouts for the 2021 season.
Because of revenue losses, expect more non-tenders than ever of arbitration-eligible players. Conforto is too talented to be a non-tender. But if the financially challenged Wilpons cannot sell the franchise, could this hasten a trade of Conforto in the offseason as the Mets veer toward a less expensive 2021 outfield of, say, J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeill?
Every management person I have spoken to expects that less money taken in will mean less for players this offseason. Even super talents such as Mookie Betts and J.T. Realmuto could face receiving less than anticipated in the coming free-agent market and the dominos will fall from there to less talented players. And it would be naive to think this will be a one-year phenomenon considering how dire the losses could be. So Conforto’s 2021-22 offseason class faces impact as well.
Conforto already was going to have challenges as a free agent. He is a very good — but not great — player. The outfield free-agent market is not deep that offseason. Conforto is a better all-around player than Kyle Schwarber and he is four years younger than Starling Marte — though the industry generally looks at both Conforto and Marte as guys you don’t want in center field. And that matters because teams more than ever are willing to spend on prime positions such as shortstop, third base and starting pitcher, which is where the 2021-22 class projects deep. (Of course signings beforehand can change the contours of any class).
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In 2021-22, we are looking at the greatest free-agent shortstop class ever with Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. Third base has Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, should he opt out of his contract. And if teams are looking for lefty power like Conforto, first basemen Brandon Belt, Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo could be out there. As for starters, older stars Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (nine combined Cy Youngs there) all have contracts concluding after next season and that also is when Noah Syndergaard becomes an intriguing free agent wild card with all of his talent coming off of Tommy John surgery.
In flush times, Conforto would still have done well in that class. He will have just completed his age-28 season before free agency and has gained high marks as a player and person.
In this atmosphere, though, that kind of player may be looking at far less, perhaps having to consider taking a qualifying offer to delay free agency a year and, hopefully, a better financial atmosphere, or perhaps taking a shorter-term deal for the same reason. No tin cups will be necessary, especially considering what is occurring elsewhere in the country. But there is clearly going to be a financial fallout that impacts the near future of MLB as well.
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