Last night, top free agent Carlos Correa supplied deprived baseball fans with their first news in weeks when he announced his decision to change representation and hire mega-agent Scott Boras. Of course, now over a month into a lockout between MLB’s owners and its Players’ Association, we can’t expect a resolution to Correa’s free agency any time soon. At some point though, spring will come, compromises will be introduced and accepted, and Correa will get paid — or so we can only hope.
Once normalcy returns, Correa will easily be the top player available. He was extremely productive in the final year of his contract, winning his first Gold (and Platinum) Glove and placing fifth in the American League MVP race while putting up an .850 OPS for the pennant-winning Astros. After seven years, Correa’s time in Houston seems to be over, as he has rejected multiple extensions that failed to meet his expectations. Correa is reportedly asking for somewhere in the 10-year, $320-million range, akin to the deals given to Francisco Lindor last year and Corey Seager in December.
Such a high price tag obviously excludes a number of teams, and two of the more deep-pocketed clubs already found their man, with Seager going to the Rangers and the Tigers picking up Javier Baez. With that said, a player of Correa’s abilities will always have suitors. Five teams were reportedly in touch with Correa in late November: the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Atlanta Braves. At this point, the most likely contenders seem to be the Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs. Here are some important considerations for all five.
The Dodgers are certainly no stranger to landing blue-chip pieces, opening their wallets time and again during their recent string of dominance. Having just lost their star shortstop in Seager, Correa would seem to be an adequate replacement, if not an outright improvement. However, the Dodgers already have an all-world shortstop in Trea Turner, who arrived at the trade deadline from the Nationals.
Turner almost exclusively played second for his new club but would presumably move back to short in the upcoming season. This would create consistent room for former top-prospect Gavin Lux at second base, although he may have to battle it out with super-utilityman Chris Taylor — fresh off a four-year extension — unless Taylor is needed elsewhere. Lux was wildly inconsistent in 2021, and if he remains in the Dodgers’ long-term plans, it would seem sensible for them to prioritize his playing time. The Dodgers essentially need to choose between spending big dollars on Correa or Turner, as the latter will certainly be seeking a similar offer when his contract runs out after this season.
Regardless of which direction they go, the Dodgers will be contending with the luxury tax threshold as usual; they’re set to pay $214 million in payroll in 2022, second-most in MLB. It’s worth noting that this ceiling is likely to change as part of the ongoing negotiations between the owners and players’ association. However, it’s hard to imagine that it would increase so dramatically as to make this a nonfactor.
However, there’s more than finances and playing time at stake here. Correa’s Astros met the Dodgers in the World Series five years ago, beating them over seven tightly contested games. Of course, it later emerged that the Astros hitters had some less-than-legal assistance throughout that season. After that came to light prior to the 2020 season, Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly responded in the teams’ first meeting, throwing behind Correa and making the now-infamous pouty face at Correa. Correa yelled a few words back, and the benches soon cleared. Kelly and the Dodgers didn’t reach a new deal prior to the lockout, but plenty of Dodgers remain from the saga. It’s hard to imagine that team chemistry won’t be on the minds of both the front office and Correa himself.
With Gleyber Torres shifting full-time to second base, the path is clear for Correa opposite him. GM Brian Cashman certainly didn’t mince words when he told reporters in November that the team “needed to upgrade” at the position. Yankees Twitter even blew up a few months ago when Astros catcher Martin Maldonado posted a picture of Correa in front of Madison Square Garden with the caption “He’s ready”.
Easter eggs aside, getting Correa into pinstripes presents similar issues to a deal with Los Angeles. The Astros beat the Yankees in the ALCS en route to their 2017 title, and star outfielder Aaron Judge has been notably outspoken on the subject. Cashman has done his best to preempt concerns by saying that Correa’s history wouldn’t play into the team’s decision to make an offer.
Speaking of Judge, the team will need to consider the massive extension he’ll warrant if they hope to keep him in the Bronx beyond this season. New York is expected to have the third-largest payroll in baseball in 2022, just behind the Dodgers at $211 million. That would already exceed the pre-lockout luxury tax threshold for the coming season. However, given that they are only committed to $108 million in 2023, there remains a possibility for a back-loaded deal.
Beyond payroll, a Correa signing would force the front office to reckon with the traffic jam ahead of Anthony Volpe (the Yankees’ #1 prospect, MLB’s 15th overall). However, should Torres continue to struggle (he posted 0.8 bWAR in 2021), the Yankees could choose to move him and ask the 5’11” Volpe to move to second.
It’s hard to believe that the Cubs are even in the conversation for Correa only a few months removed from a 91-loss season which saw them ship franchise stalwarts Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Baez out of the North Side. However, President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer has publicly emphasized that they are “retooling,” hoping to avoid a multi-year rebuilding process. They also appear to be willing to put some money behind that goal, already signing Marcus Stroman to a $71-million deal. Stroman promptly began recruiting himself, tweeting at Correa to join him in Chicago.
The Cubs make some sense here. With an expected payroll of $98 million in 2022, they are far more suited to offer a long-term, high-AAV deal than either the Dodgers or the Yankees. Notably, there is also far less personal history related to the Astros’ cheating scandal. Correa would also have a chance to be the true face of the franchise, a role he has consistently only had a share of while playing alongside names like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole.
Of course, there’s an inherent con in there as well. In leaving his dominant Astros teammates for a much weaker team, Correa will be accepting a serious downgrade to his playoff chances and lineup protection (a nonexistent obstacle for an NYY or LAD deal). Frank Schwindel and Ian Happ are both productive players, but they’re no Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez. This will be an interesting year for the Cubs — they have a decent, young core, but it’s hard to imagine that Stroman and Correa would be enough to make them competitive. Perhaps management can convince him that there are other moves on the horizon, or maybe Correa doesn’t really care — only time will tell.
While Boston has traditionally been among the most willing to spend big, that trend has somewhat reversed in the past few years. Since being hired in 2020, Director of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom has focused on smaller deals, at least partially driven by ownership’s desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold. That directive caused the team to trade away a franchise-defining talent in Mookie Betts in 2020.
With that in mind, it is a bit hard to imagine that the team would be willing to offer Correa a similar contract to the one they refused to give Betts, a homegrown, beloved, and superior player. The Red Sox also have a tremendous shortstop already in Xander Bogaerts. While Boston could follow in the model of the Dodgers and move one shortstop to second, Bogaerts is under a long-term contract — unlike either Seager or Turner. However, he does have a player opt-out after 2022, and being forced to relocate positions could make that decision easier.
Given that the defending world champions had one of the most productive infields in the league last year, it’s not immediately obvious how Correa would slot in. Second baseman Ozzie Albies is under contract until 2028, and shortstop Dansby Swanson and third baseman Austin Riley are both still arbitration-eligible. Swanson is the most moveable of the group, set to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in 2023. With that said, it’s difficult to come to any conclusions on the Braves’ motivations until Freddie Freeman’s future with the team is resolved.
Dark Horse Candidates
A number of other teams could ultimately make the call to go all-in for Correa. He is young, remarkably talented, and boasts a wealth of October experience and success. The Tigers could opt for a super-loaded middle infield and play Baez at second. The Marlins could decide that this is the moment to buy into their resurgence. Maybe the Mets will continue their offseason of spending with yet another big-ticket signing. For now, though, we’re in the dark; here’s to hoping we know something — anything — soon.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)