As the regular season begins to wind down, the Houston Astros are about to embark on their fourth straight playoff run. However, the offseason has begun for many teams.
That means the blueprint for organizations around the league are being formulated on how to approach free agency. No position player is going to garner more conversation in those strategy sessions than impending free agent, Carlos Correa.
Carlos Correa free agency talks are already heating up, as the postseason nears.
According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Detroit Tigers have already added a Correa and AJ Hinch reunion to their wish list. There is also various speculation around the league that the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and New York Yankees would also be in the mix for Correa.
There was a point in the mid-summer where many Astros fans were convinced that Correa was washed and not at all worth resigning in the offseason. You know who you are. Don’t make me pull those receipts! Jokes aside, Correa really came through for the Astros down the final stretch.
Obviously, the struggling bullpen, injuries, and general inconsistency really slowed down all of the Astros in the second half of the season. Correa finally broke his slump around July 25th. Since that time, Correa slashed .298/.371/.491 with nine home runs and thirty-six runs-batted-in.
Correa’s full 2021 season stats aren’t exactly earth shattering. He has still managed to stay patient and be relevant in various ways. Despite the epic mid-season slump, Correa has hit career highs in home runs and runs.
He has also played himself into the top ten in offense position player wins-about-replacement, on-base percentage and runs scored. Of course, he has been out-of-this-world on the defensive side of the diamond. A big reason for this performance has been Correa’s ability to stay on the field, posting the second highest games in a season of his career.
I wrote earlier in the season that Correa might not be a lock for the Gold Glove award at the shortstop position. That suggestion looks to have changed course significantly. From a defensive runs-above-replacement standpoint, no other player in MLB matches Correa.
I could start listing a bunch of advanced defensive metrics to support that. If Correa doesn’t win a Gold Glove at this point, I am calling the police, as there would have been a robbery.
So, I’ve likely told you what you already know about Correa. There should be no convincing you to want the Astros to re-sign him at this point. Correa is a generational talent at shortstop. A player that was developed into a bonafide superstar, right here in the Astros organization.
Sure, it’s likely Correa will never post a forty/twenty home run to stolen base record in a season like Fernando Tatis Jr. Correa has more than proven himself to be a top offensive, and now defensive, talent in the league and will command a price tag to come with it.
A lot of casual fans tend to lean on the general manager, James Click, as a reason why this deal didn’t get done prior to the season starting. First of all, at the point of negotiating, Correa had not proven that he could stay healthy and remain productive for a full season. Additionally, Correa was coming off a sub-par 2020 campaign.
Secondly, this is absolutely not Click’s final call. The type of contract that Correa commands will undoubtedly need the approval of the Astros’ owner, Jim Crane. Based on the track record to this point, Jim Crane is willing to spend money, but not at the expense of the long term success of the team.
The Astros have given or taken on the contracts of Bregman at $20M AAV, Altuve at $23M AAV, Verlander at $33M AAV and Greinke at $34M AAV. Those deals have not featured lengthy terms though.
With the aforementioned Verlander and Greinke contracts coming off the books after this season, there is certainly flexibility to provide another high, average annual value contract. The length of the contract seems to be the hanging point in all of this. I am not a baseball insider by any stretch. However, I am a chief financial officer by trade.
Understanding that Major League Baseball is a for-profit business, I know that historical financial data and returns-on-investment come into play. I don’t believe Click and Crane are unwilling to negotiate. We just have to realize that the “numbers” men are looking at the latter part of a long-term deal with a fine-tooth comb.
You can just look and see how these contracts have shaken out in the past. Traditionally, they have not fared well as the player increases in age, subsequently decreasing in health and performance. You can take a look contracts of David Price, Giancarlo Stanton, or even as great as he was, Albert Pujols, for examples of this.
If a team signs a player to a five-plus year contract, you will just have to be okay with the fact that the player may no longer be relevant in the later part of their career, if he has health issues arise, or has off-field issues preventing him from playing. At that point, a contract with an average annual value of this size that could prove impossible to trade, or to allow a general manager to keep a competitive team on the field within the constraints of the budget.
"“If they want to keep me here, I’ll be happy to stay here. If they don’t see me here long term, I’ll go play for somebody else,” Correa said back in early September. “That decision is out of my hands. The only thing that’s in my hands is the way I perform on the field and the way I help my team win ballgames.”"
Believe it or not, I am not trying to talk the Astros out of signing Correa. Quite the contrary. I am just want to shine a little bit of light on the business side of baseball. It’s not always a matter of the clubhouse and fans love player XYZ, he’s playing well, so he should be resigned.
There are a lot of financial moving parts that organizations consider when looking at free agents. In addition to the previously internal finance factors to consider, we have to also take a look at how the external financial factors, or in other words, the market plays out.
The San Diego Padres and New York Mets blew the top off the shortstop market in terms of dollar value with the contracts they extended to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Francisco Lindor, respectively.
However, this off-season’s free agent market is saturated with several big-name shortstops. In addition to Correa, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Javier Baez could be starting shortstop candidates for teams to consider.
Factoring in Correa’s performance in the regular and postseason, his health record, his age and the impending free agents. I don’t really see how this young man doesn’t get $30 million annual average value contract over, at the very least, eight years. My gut tells me that the Astros just won’t make a play at that.
It is plausible that winning in the postseason could help in this particular negotiation between Correa and the Astros. The boost in revenue generated from a World Series win could prompt Jim Crane and Astros to make a big-time move to keep the core as it is today.
As Climbing Tal’s Hill Contributor, Paul Conlon, wrote, “Correa is a guy who has regularly proven he can perform in the postseason.” One more epic performance this year might be just what convinces the Astros to go the long years.
Ultimately, no one really knows enough information to discern anything beyond pure speculation. All we can do is enjoy our last games with Correa and see how the postseason plays out. The Astros close out their regular season on Sunday at 2:10 p.m. with Jose Urquidy matching left-hander Cole Irvin.