Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) is a SAM- and Mg2+-dependent methyltransferase that regulates neurotransmitters through methylation. Simulations and experiments have identified divergent catecholamine substrate orientations in the COMT active site: molecular dynamics simulations have favored a monodentate coordination of catecholate substrates to the active site Mg2+, and crystal structures instead preserve bidentate coordination along with short (2.65 Å) methyl donor-acceptor distances. We carry out longer dynamics (up to 350 ns) to quantify interconversion between bidentate and monodentate binding poses. We provide a systematic determination of the relative free energy of the monodentate and bidentate structures in order to identify whether structural differences alter the nature of the methyl transfer mechanism and source of enzymatic rate enhancement. We demonstrate that the bidentate and monodentate binding modes are close in energy but separated by a 7 kcal/mol free energy barrier. Analysis of interactions in the two binding modes reveals that the driving force for monodentate catecholate orientations in classical molecular dynamics simulations is derived from stronger electrostatic stabilization afforded by alternate Mg2+ coordination with strongly charged active site carboxylates. Mixed semi-empirical-classical (SQM/MM) substrate C-O distances (2.7 Å) for the bidentate case are in excellent agreement with COMT X-ray crystal structures, as long as charge transfer between the substrates, Mg2+, and surrounding ligands is permitted. SQM/MM free energy barriers for methyl transfer from bidentate and monodentate catecholate configurations are comparable at around 21–22 kcal/mol, in good agreement with experiment (18–19 kcal/mol). Overall, the work suggests that both binding poses are viable for methyl transfer, and accurate descriptions of charge transfer and electrostatics are needed to provide balanced relative barriers when multiple binding poses are accessible, for example in other transferases.