Astros: What happens if Carlos Correa leaves after 2021?

Feb 22, 2021; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) takes infield practice during spring training workouts at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2021; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) takes infield practice during spring training workouts at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Anytime there’s news regarding Carlos Correa’s future (or lack thereof) in Houston, Astros fans across social media don’t hold back in imploring the team to extend its star shortstop. I’m frequently one of those people, which is why Correa’s comments on Monday were particularly distressing for me. But it also made me wonder if the team has already made up its mind.

Correa told reporters the team has not approached him regarding a contract extension while reiterating his desire to remain with the Astros. At the same time, he also noted that he’s “not scared of free agency,” so he won’t take an abnormal discount. The ball is entirely in the team’s court if it wishes to retain the former Rookie of the Year for the long haul.

Are the Houston Astros already thinking about life after Carlos Correa?

Time is running out on this, unfortunately. Correa noted that extension talks should take place before the season starts, so the team has a little more than a month to work out a deal if it wants to. But therein lies the question — if it wants to. It’s not entirely clear if the Astros have any interest, but history tells us we should find out soon.

When the Astros have a player they want to keep, they work out an extension before free agency, as in the cases of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly and Justin Verlander. In fact, Verlander’s extension was announced on the last day of Spring Training. By contrast, they made basically no effort to re-sign Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole or George Springer once they hit the open market.

So in other words, if the Astros don’t extend Correa before Spring Training is done, he’s as good as gone. Maybe GM James Click is irreversibly married to the Rays way of operating, or maybe owner Jim Crane doesn’t want to pony up $300 million. Either way, the clock is ticking.

Contingency Plans

Let’s assume the Astros are outright fools and decide to let Correa leave in free agency. If that happens, he’ll join a ridiculously talented crop of free agent shortstops that could include Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. But if the team doesn’t want to pay Correa, I really don’t see them getting in the mix for any of these other top players, so we can cross that off.

It’s possible they could go shopping in the next tier of free agents, which could include Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien and Jose Iglesias. But that would also be uncharacteristic of this organization. If they won’t pony up to keep their incumbent star, they will more than likely look to fill that spot from within.

One option would be to shift Alex Bregman over to shortstop and find a new third baseman. If they think Abraham Toro is ready, there’s your answer right there. They’ll need to either make room for Toro or trade him within the next year, so whether his name comes up in trade talks could also signal what the front office is thinking.

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The Astros also have a couple of shortstop prospects in the minor leagues in Freudis Nova and Jeremy Pena, though the lack of a 2020 minor league season means we don’t truly know how close they are to being major league ready. Pena looks to be a strong defender whose bat is coming around, while Nova has the better offensive profile with comparisons to Hanley Ramirez.

Neither has played a game at Double-A yet, so we don’t know whether either of them would be ready to take over in 2022. But if the Astros are intent on avoiding megadeals like what Correa would command, they do have two intriguing prospects to keep an eye on this season. In other words, all is not lost.

But none of these options would make the Astros a better team in 2022 than re-signing Correa would, and none of them are going to replace his leadership and clubhouse presence. Even if his on-field performance doesn’t live up to the lofty price tag, his intangibles add value that’s hard to quantify. If you’re going to hand out big money, at least give it to someone like that.

Next. Astros: Not in talks of an extension with Correa. dark

Make no mistake, I am on record as being a strong advocate for the team extending Correa. But they have about five weeks left to do that or he’s basically gone. And if, unfortunately, no deal is reached, the Astros do at least have some options on hand to take his spot on the field, though I doubt any of them could truly replace such a meaningful player.