Sports

Four Thoughts on the Departure of Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa tipped his hat to fans for the last time as an Astro.
Carlos Correa tipped his hat to fans for the last time as an Astro. Photo by Jack Gorman
Sports heartbreak is nothing new in Houston. We've lived through the pain of fandom for decades. Last week, we saw two young sports stars depart in dramatic fashion, one via trade and the other via free agency. In fact, the departures occurred just hours apart. How's that for high sports drama?

And while little will help to heal the wounds left by Carlos Correa going to the Twins on a three-year, $105 million deal, we do have thoughts about what happened and why.

This was not unexpected.

All of the drama and innuendo (more on this below) in the days leading up to Correa's departure aside, this was predictable. The Astros had said they were unwilling to accommodate Correa's specific demands (more on that to coming) and they stuck to their guns, along with their original five-year offer. We predicted this very occurrence in this spaced a year ago. Unfortunately, those prognostications were correct and came to fruition over the weekend.

The fact is that as great as Correa is at 27 years old, there are good reasons to balk at a contract that makes him the highest per-year player at his position, something that was clearly important to him. His injury issues are number one on that list. The Astros and GM James Click have a specific philosophy about paying players and they have remained steadfast in those whether we like the outcome or not. We all knew this and there were even tributes to him during games at the end of the season knowing it was likely the end of the road for Correa in an Astros uniform. The reality is that this was more of a formality than social media would have liked us to believe.

Rumors aren't everything they are cracked up to be.

Speaking of social media, in the end all the rumors of the Astros being the most likely landing spot for Correa this late in the free agency period, and how the team was making a new offer in the final days turned out to be false. The Astros never wavered from their five-year bid and Correa moved on. Perhaps had none of the rumors appeared, the star shortstop's departure would have felt less like a knife to the heart.

This is what happens in the era of the 24/7 news cycle. We cannot possibly know where the stories come from. No doubt many of them are floated by agents trying to change the dynamics of available deals. There are also some pretty masterful trolls out there (Martin Maldonado hilariously is among them). That all adds up to tensions significantly higher than necessary and the pain all that more acute.

The Astros clearly were not willing to be in limbo for three years (or more).

The details of Correa's deal with the Twins are important. Yes, he got $35 million per year. The Astros certainly could and probably would have matched that over three years. But, and this is the most critical, Correa can choose to walk after EVERY year of the contract. Next offseason, the following and, ultimately, after the third and final year, he can test free agency. Setting aside the Astros young prospect, Jeremy Peña's potential development and place on the team, a protracted contract negotiation every single winter with agent Scott Boras feels like a Hot Stove League from hell.

It makes sense for Correa, who ultimately wants a very long-term deal to rival those of his other fellow shortstops. He thinks he is the best among them (he may be right) and wants more. That's fair. But, this deal allows him to hunt for that deal every year, leaving his current team and their impatient fanbase to either pony up or face the same dramatic will-he-won't-he scenario. And whether you agree with the Astros position on decades-long contracts or not, the annual battle for Correa's skills seems wholly untenable for everyone...except Correa and his agent.

It still sucks.

Having said all that, this blows. Correa is probably the best shortstop in baseball and should be entering the prime of his career. He is a home-grown player as well, a top draft pick that the Astros groomed into someone worth $35 million per season. Watching him join the Minnesota Twins is a gut punch — at least it wasn't the Yankees or Red Sox or, God help us, the Dodgers. At least when the Astros allowed George Springer to walk last year, it made sense with his age. This feels like it could come back to haunt the Astros and there is no shame in being angry, frustrated, even downright sad. It's a bad day for the franchise and for its fans.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke