Chicago Cubs: Let’s look at what Michael Conforto could offer

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

It’s no secret the Chicago Cubs have a less-than-superb mix of outfielders right now. Or, perhaps, I should say they each bring their own set of particular shortcomings that, when paired together, create a problematic picture for the team heading into 2022.

Jason Heyward is coming off the worst offensive season of his career. By and large, he’s been a tremendous disappointment with the bat during his Cubs tenure, but he really took things to a new level in 2021, coming in more than 30 percent below league average using OPS+ while bringing home a cool $21 million.

In center field, Ian Happ continues to confound. Is he the guy who was scorching hot over the final two months who looked like what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer envisioned when they selected him with the ninth overall pick in 2015? Or is he the player who looked like a sure-fire non-tender candidate halfway through the year after failing to even hit his weight?

Rounding out the mix, we have some potential combination of Clint Frazier, Harold Ramirez, Michael Hermosillo and Rafael Ortega. All definitely have a role to play on the team next season, but it’s easy to see why another outfielder could (and likely is) on the team’s wish list. Yes, Brennen Davis will likely be with the Cubs at some point in 2022, but if you factor in the designated hitter’s likely arrival in the Senior Circuit, there are plenty of at-bats to go around.

Which brings us to Michael Conforto, the former Mets’ first-rounder who’s looking for a new home for the first time in his career. The left-handed-hitting outfielder struggled in 2021 with New York, but still managed a .232/.344/.384 line, despite battling injuries off and on. But if you’re a team with a need in the outfield, you need to look at the bigger picture here.

2021 marked the outlier for Conforto, a former Oregon State standout, and you can figure that out pretty quickly looking at the numbers. Over the last five years, this guy has a 127 OPS+ and he’s mashed left-handed pitching in his career, to boot. 

Chicago Cubs: Michael Conforto isn’t the player we all saw in 2021

He’s just 28, so he’s still young enough to make a difference for years to come on a Cubs team that’s still likely a year or two from being a threat in the National League. The team lost a ton of power at the deadline when they unloaded Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez – and adding some back is hardly the worst idea in the world, especially if they miss out on someone like Carlos Correa once the lockout ends.

The question we – and Jed Hoyer – face is this: unlike some of the other potential fits available, Conforto is tied to draft pick compensation after turning down a qualifying offer from the Mets at season’s end. That means, should Chicago sign him, they’d forfeit their second-highest draft pick in 2022.

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Assuming he’s back at 100 percent moving forward, Conforto offers a strong on-base presence with solid pop. All we’ve heard lately is related to Correa – but it’s important to remember there are plenty of other names out there who could improve this team rather significantly and Conforto is one of them.