Posted on January 17, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

New York Mets Michael Conforto

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It appears all but certain that the New York Mets will begin the 2018 season without outfielder Michael Conforto. Mets GM Sandy Alderson indicated on Wednesday that Conforto is unlikely to be back until May. Alderson’s comments are the closest thing to a timetable the Mets have given on Conforto, who figures to be an important piece of the puzzle for the Mets in 2018.

Conforto was able to shrug off a sluggish 2016 campaign with a true breakout season in 2017. He hit .279 with 27 home runs, posting an OPS of .939. He also made the All-Star Team for the first time. However, his season ended in late August because of a freak shoulder injury. Conforto tore the posterior capsule of his left shoulder, which required surgery. At the time, the Mets were hopeful that Conforto would be fully recovered by spring training. However, there doesn’t appear to be the case, especially since the Mets have no intention of rushing back such an important player.

“Conforto probably will not be ready,” Alderson said of Conforto’s status for opening day. “Everything’s going as planned. There have been no setbacks. But his schedule is such that I don’t expect him back until the first of May.”

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The silver lining is that Conforto hasn’t suffered any setbacks. The Mets are simply choosing to be cautious with him. Conforto also believes that he won’t miss a beat once he’s ready to return to the lineup.

“I’ve done more shoulder exercises than I could ever want to do,” Conforto said earlier this winter. “My shoulders are definitely the strongest they’ve ever been. … I think that’s a positive I can take from it. My shoulders are in great shape. I don’t expect any apprehension. The doctor said that’d be normal. But I’m pretty confident I’m going to jump right back into it. I’ll take my time but I think I’ll be just fine.”

Of course, the fact that Conforto will miss at least the first month of the season makes the recent signing of Jay Bruce all the more important. If healthy, Conforto would have been penciled in as New York’s everyday right fielder. However, without an established player to fill in for Conforto, the Mets needed to add a proven outfielder this offseason. Bruce will now be New York’s primary right fielder.

With Bruce back with the Mets, Conforto will likely play center field when he returns, assuming there are no other injuries in New York’s outfield. Until then, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo are likely to split time in center field. Once Conforto is healthy, both will likely be relegated to bench roles with Bruce in right field and Yoenis Cespedes in left field.

With Bruce back in the fold and providing protection for Cespedes in the lineup, the Mets should have adequate coverage while Conforto is out. However, missing him for at least the first month of the season is far from ideal. He was arguably the team’s most important player in 2017. The Mets should be glad that he hasn’t suffered a setback during his rehab. But the fact that he won’t be back until May is already a setback for the Mets in 2018.

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