Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on middle-of-the-order hitters who will be available to the Phillies in free agency once the MLB lockout ends. Part one focused on Kris Bryant followed by Kyle Schwarber.

Much has been written about Kyle Schwarber’s relationship with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long, and rightfully so.

Long has been credited with unlocking Schwarber’s power during their time together in Washington, and when asked about Schwarber’s potential fit with the Phillies on MLB Network in November, he declared himself a “Kyle Schwarber fan,” adding he believes the free-agent left fielder would be a good fit in Philadelphia.

Less has been written about Long’s relationship with free-agent outfielder Michael Conforto. Long was the first hitting coach Conforto worked with in the big leagues, when he made his MLB debut in July 2015 as a New York Met. The two continued to work together for the next three seasons, and developed a close rapport.

“The reason I do this job is because of kids like Michael when they come around,” Long told the New York Post in 2016. “He’s special.”

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That seems like a pretty good endorsement, coming from someone whose list of former pupils includes Derek Jeter, Bryce Harper, and Juan Soto. But beyond their relationship, there are other reasons Conforto, who will be 29 on March 1, could be a logical fit in Philadelphia, even if just for a year.

After putting together a career season in 2020, when he compiled a .322/.412/.515 slash line and a career-high 158 wRC+ through 54 games, he struggled in 2021, slashing .232/.344/.384 with a 106 wRC+.

Why he struggled is up for debate. Conforto battled a hamstring injury for the first few months of the season, and had COVID-19 two weeks before reporting to spring training, which could have contributed to his dip in production.

But it seems a bigger factor might have been some bad luck.

Among the 206 hitters who put at least 250 batted balls in play in 2021, Conforto showed the 17th-largest gap between his expected batting average (.253) and his actual batting average (.232). Using the same qualifiers, he showed the 14th-largest gap between his expected slugging percentage (.435) and his actual slugging percentage (.384). Simply put, he was among the 20 unluckiest hitters in baseball last year.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ power-bat search: Kris Bryant brings versatility, production - and a steep price tag

Based on the quality of contact he was making in 2021, and the numbers that he put up in his six seasons before 2021, Conforto’s unlucky gap suggests he should have been hitting for a higher average and a higher slugging percentage than he actually did. That means he could be a bounce-back candidate in 2022.

His underlying numbers seem to point toward a bounce-back year, as well. While his power undoubtedly dropped off, Conforto improved in other areas. He lowered his strikeout percentage from 24.5% in 2020, to 21.7% in 2021. He increased his walk rate from 10.3% to 12.3%, and made contact and barreled the ball at rates that were above league average. Statcast’s advanced defensive metric, Outs Above Average (OAA), liked him too, ranking him in the top fifth of the league, with +6 OAA.

If Conforto were looking for a shorter contract that he can use to show teams that 2021 was a fluke before returning to the free-agent market, Philadelphia could be a solid spot for him to land. He’d be playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark, and as mentioned above, would be reunited with his former hitting coach.

The Phillies could fill their opening in left field with Conforto, who would be a far better defensive fit than Schwarber. On top of that, Conforto is a left-handed power hitter — with experience batting in the middle of the lineup — who could balance out some of the Phillies’ right-handed hitting sluggers, like Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto.

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But even if Conforto and his agent, Scott Boras, opt for a shorter contract, it likely would come with a steeper price. That price might be slightly lower, annually, compared with that of Schwarber, who just had the best season of his career. But since Conforto declined the qualifying offer from the Mets, he’d likely be shooting for more than $18.4 million.

Another thing to consider: Under the previous CBA, the Phillies would have had to give up $500,000 from their international bonus pool and a second-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft to sign Conforto because he has a qualifying offer attached to him. On Thursday, commissioner Rob Manfred announced the league would agree to drop draft pick compensation, but negotiations are ongoing and it is unclear whether this would apply to players who hit free agency before the CBA expired on Dec. 1.

At last year’s GM meetings, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he’d prefer not to lose a prospect, but he wouldn’t rule out players with the qualifying offer attached.

“I would just say I’d prefer not to give up a draft choice,” Dombrowski said, “but I can’t say that we wouldn’t. It’s too early in the process to really make that determination — between trade conversations and free-agent discussions — and seeing who accepts. But my preference is to not give up a draft choice.”

If there’s a more lucrative deal out there for Conforto, it might be with the Texas Rangers, who have shown a commitment to increase their spending this offseason, and have already signed another player with the qualifying offer attached to him (Marcus Semien).

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But the Phillies will have to see when the removal of draft pick compensation will take effect. If it applies to Conforto, they must decide whether the risk of his not bouncing back is worth parting ways with a prospect for either a long-term or a short-term deal.

Depending on how much salary they have to work with before they hit the luxury tax threshold — which is among the topics being negotiated in the current CBA negotiations — Conforto’s asking price might not make that risk worth it.