Astros should extend, not trade cornerstone Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa (1) reacts after hitting a double against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Correa (1) reacts after hitting a double against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Astros must sign Carlos Correa to an extension to keep him in Houston.

Just when you thought the DeAndre Hopkins trade was going to be the worst thing to happen to Houston fans in 2020, a new rumor is threatening to dwarf it. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic is reporting that the Astros are entertaining the idea of trading star shortstop Carlos Correa this offseason, but doing so would be a grave mistake.

From a purely and coldly analytical viewpoint, it makes sense. Rosenthal indicates the Astros are feeling that they’re unlikely to sign Correa to an extension before he reaches free agency after the 2021 season. By trading him now, they could replenish the farm system with prospects at a time when they’re lacking significant draft picks due to the sign stealing scandal.

But if that’s all that GM James Click and owner Jim Crane are thinking about, they’re in the wrong business. Besides, trading Correa this winter could be complicated by the fact that the Indians, in almost the exact same situation, are all but certain to move Francisco Lindor. It’s unlikely that a team would pay a bounty for Correa while an arguably better shortstop is on the trade block.

There’s something to be said for maximizing value, of course, and it’s what smart and shrewd teams do. It’s what the Astros themselves have done many times. But in this particular situation, there’s only one thing they need to know: You simply do not trade Carlos Correa. And if you don’t trade him, you have to pay him.

Can’t Afford To Lose Him

For starters, you don’t see a talent like Correa come along every day. He plays Gold Glove caliber defense at a premium position and has the offensive firepower to put the team on his back for stretches, as he did this postseason. He’s still just 26 years old, so he still has several prime seasons left in him.

The knock on him is his durability and the fact that his incredible talent hasn’t translated into eye-popping regular season numbers at the plate. In fact, he’s posted a below average adjusted OPS in two of the past three seasons. From an outsider’s perspective while looking at numbers on a computer screen, it makes sense to trade Correa, slide Alex Bregman to shortstop and sign DJ LeMahieu to play third base.

But Correa’s value goes far beyond OPS and Wins Above Replacement. In the past year, he has matured and stepped up to become the unquestioned leader in the Astros clubhouse. It started in Spring Training with him lambasting certain opposing players who were being vocal about the sign stealing, and of course we now know those players were all throwing stones from glass houses.

Correa really stepped up in the playoffs, both in his performance at the plate and in his leadership. He was brash, outspoken and unapologetic, but he backed it all up with his MVP-level postseason play. He carried the team in every way possible, and there is simply no way to quantify that into analytical data.

In doing so, he became something of a lightning rod for the rabid Astros haters, and he even seemed to relish that role. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Jose Altuve suddenly broke out of his season-long slump after being unfairly thrust into the scandal’s spotlight for months based on a blatant lie about buzzers. Correa took that pressure off Altuve’s shoulders, and it seemed to only make him stronger.

If You Don’t Keep Him, Who Do You Keep?

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The Astros lost Gerrit Cole to free agency last winter, and they’re about to lose George Springer as well. Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers are also set to hit free agency after next season. The only players with guaranteed contracts for 2022 are Altuve and Bregman; everyone else under team control will be arbitration eligible or in their pre-arb years, with the exception of contract options the team has over Yuli Gurriel and Ryan Pressly.

I have no problem losing Cole, as the Yankees gave him crazy money. Springer seems eager to move on, and he generally stayed quiet about the sign stealing, so it’s obvious he wants to get away from it all. There’s no way to know whether Verlander, Greinke or McCullers will return after next year, but it certainly seems like Correa loves this team and would welcome the chance to remain in Houston.

So if you’re losing as many established veterans as the Astros may lose, why would you trade Correa? Who do you have left? Sure, you’ll have Altuve, Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, but that’s not enough. And who steps up as the clubhouse leader? You need Correa in that locker room as much as you need him on the field.

We don’t know whether there have been extension talks or how far apart the two sides are, but in the end it shouldn’t matter. Correa is the guy you break the bank for. That’s not something I would have said a year ago, but the events of these past several months have completely changed things. Trading him would be like plunging a dagger into the heart of this team and its fan base.

The Indians pretty much have to trade Lindor because they can’t afford to extend him, but the Astros don’t have that problem. They’re not the Yankees, but they’re not a small market team either. If it means giving Correa $300 million, so be it. When you only have two players on the payroll after next year and plenty of young pitching in the organization, you can afford it.

And for someone like Correa, you can’t afford not to.

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