This, in some ways, is the problem, if you can really call it a problem. There are these games, like this game, when Michael Conforto can make you believe he is one of the top two or three hitters in baseball. The power. The willingness — the skill — to go the other way.
And man, oh man. That swing.
“That swing,” Terry Collins had said, five years ago, when Conforto first showed up at Citi Field, “is a thing of beauty.”
And there are days when that swing allows you to get a little carried away. Days like this. Days when he goes 4-for-5 and he drives in five runs, when he hits one home run the other way and nearly hits two more to dead-center and to right. Days when that swing is so hypnotizing, so mesmerizing, so breathtaking.
The problem — if you can really call it a problem — isn’t with Conforto. It’s with those of us who see that swing and forecast him to be something he might never be. He has, at various times in his five years with the Mets, been projected a batting champion in waiting, an MVP in waiting, a top-10 MLB player in waiting.
And if that’s the standard … well, you’re still waiting. He’s hitting .331 for the season after just about single-handedly ending the Mets’ five-game losing streak, doing his part to hammer the Orioles at Camden Yards, 9-4. But he’s never hit higher than .279 in the big leagues. He’s never received even one MVP vote. He’s made one All-Star team.
If your expectation for Conforto was somewhere near the intersection of Mike Trout Boulevard and Mookie Betts Way … well, he has fallen short of that.
“I’ve always felt like I’m a guy who could spray the ball around and be a tougher out,” Conforto said. “In this game you have to stay hungry, have to stay humble have to keep working and try to get better every day.”
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been one of those who’ve judged Conforto, throughout his career, by those impossibly high standards and, truthfully, that’s never fair for any player.)
But here’s the thing: It is OK to not be what Reggie Jackson used to playfully call himself, a “super-duper-star.” It is OK to be a very good player, to have a lifetime OPS+ of 127, to have gotten better every year and to have, at age 27, the best years of your career still sitting ahead of you, waiting for you.
It’s OK to be very good. And no sin to not be Mike Trout.
“He doesn’t swing at a lot of [bad pitches] and his bat is in the zone for a long time,” said Michael Wacha, who started Wednesday’s game for the Mets and has faced him plenty as an opponent. “You have to make your pitch but even then he has a chance to get good wood on it. He’s just a tough out.”
It is why one of the first things the Steve Cohen Administration should do when it moves into the corporate offices on Tom Seaver Way is to try and lock Conforto up to an extension. Make him a Met into his 30s.
This will in no way be easy. Conforto’s agent is Scott Boras, and it is his way to encourage his clients to test free agency, especially when they are but a year away, as Conforto will soon be. There’s no reason to believe he’d make an exception here.
Still, Conforto is exactly the kind of player about whom Mets fans have always most fretted under the Wilpon/Katz stewardship, homegrown players who aren’t taken care of, who aren’t paid, wind up elsewhere. Think Daniel Murphy. Think Zack Wheeler. Think Jose Reyes.
The reason Mets fans have fallen over themselves embracing Cohen is because of his deep-deep pockets and the presumption he will not let a player he wants slip away — whether that’s a free agent or a player on his team. And since we know Cohen is a Mets fan, we might also assume that his feelings for Conforto are similar to most of the flock.
So even if Conforto does opt to test the market, it is a good bet Cohen will make and meet that market if he wants Conforto to stay. The new owner’s arrival removes a reliable source of anxiety from ever-anxious Mets fans, and this is just one reason why.
So they can simply enjoy watching a player getting better and better. That’s a lot more fun than worrying about what he’ll look like in a Braves uniform.
“His swing is so effective,” said Luis Rojas, another manager who sees what we all see, who sees that swing and swoons, who sees that swing and wonders just what might be. Which is fine. But so is what it already is. It is wise to remember that now.
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