From the moment Carlos Correa signed a short-term, opt-out-laden deal with the Twins back in March, it’s felt like a foregone conclusion that he’d take the first opt-out provision in that contract and return to free agency this winter. Unsurprisingly, Correa revealed in an interview with El Nuevo Dia’s Jorge Figueroa Loza that he plans to do just that. Correa, citing his age and performance with the Twins this past season, tells Figueroa Loza that exercising the first of two opt-out clauses in his contract “is the right decision.”
As he’s done on multiple occasions recently, Correa effused praise for the Twins organization and stated multiple times that his hope is to remain with in Minnesota on a long-term deal. To that end, it’s worth noting that Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said just this week that there have already been conversations with Correa and agent Scott Boras (link via Megan Ryan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune). Falvey indicated a willingness to again “get creative” in order to keep Correa in Minnesota while also recognizing that they’ll likely face stiff competition in his return to the market. Correa, even in repeatedly expressing his hopes of signing a long-term deal with Minnesota, acknowledged that “what you want doesn’t always happen.”
By virtually any measure, Correa’s 2022 season was a strong one. The former Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 home runs, 24 doubles and a triple in 590 plate appearances across 136 games. Correa’s power output was down a bit, but that was true on a league-wide scale in 2022. Both wRC+ and OPS+, which adjust for the league’s run-scoring environment and for a player’s home park, pegged Correa’s bat 40% better than league average in 2022.
Defensively, Correa didn’t replicate his 2021 Platinum Glove campaign, although it may not have been reasonable to expect him to duplicate what will likely be a career year in terms of defensive stats. His top-of-the-scale ratings dipped to merely above-average in both Defensive Runs Saved (3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (1.0). Notably, Statcast’s Outs Above Average pegged Correa as a negative defender (-3) for the first time since 2016. When taking in his defensive body of work as a whole, however, Correa is tied for sixth among all MLB players, regardless of position, with 50 DRS since 2018. His 45 OAA in that time rank seventh.
Both the Minnesota front office and manager Rocco Baldelli have praised Correa’s glovework on the whole, and also touted him as a valuable clubhouse presence and vocal team leader. Correa has also been more durable in the last three seasons than he was earlier in his career. He had brief absences in 2022 after being plunked on the hand and while spending time on the Covid-related injured list, but Correa has played in 89% of his team’s possible games since 2020.
While last year’s market didn’t produce the $330MM+ contract Correa reportedly sought, the 2022-23 market will be a different animal. He’ll be going up against three fellow star shortstops — Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner — rather than four this time around, and as Correa himself noted within this latest interview, he’ll be the only of the four who’s ineligible to receive a qualifying offer. (Players can only receive a QO once in their career, and Correa rejected one last November.) The upcoming offseason also won’t be impeded by a lockout as the 2021-22 offseason was — a 99-day transaction stoppage during which time Correa also switched representation, hiring the Boras Corporation.
All of that context notwithstanding, it’s still tough — albeit not impossible — to imagine Correa landing the megadeal he sought a year ago. He is, after all, a year older this time around and is coming off a strong but lesser campaign than the one he enjoyed with Houston in 2021.
That’s not to say that he can’t expect to find a lengthy and lucrative deal in free agency, just that securing a decade-long deal in the vicinity of his current annual value might not be in the cards. In all likelihood, Boras and Correa will still initially seek out that decade-long term and perhaps again take aim at Bryce Harper’s $330MM overall guarantee — the largest free-agent deal in history — but a compromise in years and/or annual value could ultimately be required. Given that Correa is still just 28 and will play all of next season at that age, even a long-term deal might once again contain an opt-out opportunity a few years into the contract.
As for his stated desire to stay put in Minnesota, it’s feels like a long shot — albeit only in the sense that it would require the Twins, for a second time, to venture into a fiscal stratosphere that has previously been beyond ownership’s limits. Signing Correa would undoubtedly require Minnesota to handily surpass the franchise-record $184MM commitment they made to Joe Mauer, but that contract was signed 13 years ago and the team’s payroll has grown considerably since that time. The Twins trotted out a payroll around $140MM in 2022, and without Correa on the books, they’ll only have about $40MM in guarantees ($52.5MM after Sonny Gray’s option is exercised).
There’s plenty of room for Correa on the payroll, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Beyond the 2023 season, the only commitment of any real note that’s on the books is Byron Buxton’s contract, and his base salary pays him a reasonable $15MM annually — only escalating toward its maximum $23MM based on MVP voting. (At that point, of course, the Twins would be thrilled to pay him that loftier salary.) The question, then, is not so much whether the Twins can “afford” to sign Correa but whether doing so is the best use of their budget and whether the front office (and owner Jim Pohlad) are convinced that he’ll merit an annual salary approaching or in excess of $30MM per year for the majority of a long-term commitment.
If not the Twins, Correa will have no shortage of options on the market. Each of the Twins, Dodgers (Turner), Red Sox (Bogaerts) and Braves (Swanson) could lose a franchise shortstop and look to the market for a replacement. (It’s worth noting that in Royce Lewis, Gavin Lux, Trevor Story and Vaughnn Grissom, those four teams also all have shortstop alternatives already in-house, as well, however.) Beyond that quartet of teams, it’s widely expected that the Cubs, Phillies and perhaps the Giants will be involved in the shortstop market. The Angels, Cardinals and Orioles are candidates to seek upgrades, too, and given the caliber of names in question, it’s possible that other teams with entrenched shortstops could move their incumbent to accommodate one of these four free agents.
It’s a good time to be a free-agent shortstop, and Correa’s recent comments all but definitively indicate that, barring an extension between now and the opening of free agency (five days after the World Series ends), that’s what he’ll once again be this winter.
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