The question for Carlos Correa the last few seasons has never centered around his ability to be great, to be a Hall of Fame caliber shortstop. We've known that ability exists. We saw it when he won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award, we saw it when he made the All Star team in 2017, and we've seen it in countless postseasons now.
The question had always been "Would his body cooperate?" It's always been Correa's inability to stay healthy that's clouded his future as a mega-contract shortstop. Now, here we are, headed toward the All Star break soon in 2021, and with a fully healthy (albeit shortened) 2020 season, another monster postseason in 2020, and a fully healthy (so far) and elite performance in 2021, and it seems most Astro fans are ready to admit it — it's just time to go ahead and pay the man.
The Astros tried to get a deal done before the season, maxing out their offer at five years, $125 million. Correa, wisely it appears, turned that down to bet on himself, and if he remains healthy and awesome at baseball for the rest of the season, SOMEONE is going to pay him a lot more than five years for $125 million. The question is "Can that someone be Jim Crane?"
Astro fans are generally pessimistic. They know that teams in bigger markets with better TV deals than the Astros' are lurking, and Correa is EXACTLY what you wait for — 27 years old, good looking, clutch performer, key position — when the time comes to give a 10 year deal to a player. But is he as good as gone? I'm more optimistic than most, and here are the reasons why:
Jim Crane's budget get some serious relief after this season
The Astros, according to salary tracking website Spotrac, have the fourth highest payroll in baseball this season. Under Jim Crane's ownership, as long as they have a championship caliber nucleus, they'll always be among the top ten, at worst. Giving Correa over $30 million per year certainly would cement their spending into the top strata for a long time. That's tough sledding, even for a billionaire. However, in the short term, Crane has around $57 million in salary coming off the books after this season, with Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander (remember him?) headed to free agency. That will help.
Carlos' buddies are all going to be here for the long haul
Correa is someone who has not been shy about his love for Houston and his love for his teammates. He will bring up, unprompted, the family-like atmosphere of the teams he's played for. His best friends on the team — Lance McCullers (who was in Correa's wedding), Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman — are all signed through at least 2024 and beyond. I think this matters to Correa.
Young pitchers and hitters ensure that they can keep being competitive and cost effective
Even though Carlos got his first ring early in his career, I'm sure he wants to win more of them, and cement his legacy as this generation's Jeter in the postseason. The good news there is that Crane's willingness to spend, in the near term, is going to be supplemented by a slew of impressive young pitchers (Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia) and hitters (Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker) who are under team cost control for the next several years. This means the team's title window has, somewhat miraculously, been extended for another few years beyond 2021.
Trust in James Click to make good moves
GM James Click comes from the Tampa Bay Rays organization, where they squeeze everything they possibly can out of a shoestring budget, finding ways on the margins to win ball games. Click can now do all of those things, but do it with the backing of a $200 million payroll. That's exciting. And the moves he's made so far, in his short time here, indicate that Click will be an above average general manager.
Trust in Jim Crane to provide resources
I've sprayed this one in as backstory to a few of the reasons above, but let's mention it its own bullet here — Jim Crane WILL spend. Not haphazardly, he will do it wisely and prudently, but he WILL DO IT.
There's the little matter of possible labor strife on the horizon
The current collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners in MLB expires after this season. December 1, to be exact. If the super contentious negotiations for getting the game on the field during COVID is any indication, this CBA negotiation is going to brutal. We could see games missed in 2022. If Crane came to Correa with a reasonable offer —- say, eight years, $260 million — before December 1, would Correa look at the looming labor strife as pending event that would make him take the bird in the hand? Or would he trust his union to create a better environment for top level free agents to max out their pay? This is a question that isn't being discussed very much, and probably should be.
The market outside of Houston might break as well for the Astros as it possibly could
OK, those are all of the Houston-centric reasons Correa could re-sign here. But other teams outside of Houston will have something to say about that. Or will they? Well, of course a few will, but how many? Let's use those Spotrac payroll rankings as a loose framework for some back-of-the-napkin analysis. First, I’d be shocked if Correa would sign with any of the teams below the league average in payroll. The one that scares me is MAYBE Texas at 20th. I could see them making a monster offer to try to get butts in seats in their new ballpark, and shoot a missile across the bow of the Astros.
Now, the important part of this analysis — the teams with money. Of the teams with above average payroll, here are their current shortstop situations (contract year in parentheses, BOLD are shortstops I would consider stars or further stars):
1. LA Dodgers — COREY SEAGER (FA after 2021)
2. NY Yankees — GLEYBER TORRES (FA after 2024)
3. NY Mets — FRANCISCO LINDOR (FA after 2031)
5. Philadelphia — DIDI GREGORIOUS (FA after 2022)
6. LA Angels — JOSE IGLESIAS (FA after 2021)
7. Boston — XANDER BOEGARTS (FA after 2026)
8. San Diego — FERNANDO TATIS, JR. (FA after 2034)
9. Washington — TREA TURNER (FA after 2022)
10. St. Louis — PAUL DeJONG (FA after 2026, T/O ‘24,’25)
11. Chicago Cubs — JAVIER BAEZ (FA after 2021)
12. San Francisco — BRANDON CRAWFORD (FA after 2021)
13. Toronto — BO BICHETTE (FA after 2025)
14. Atlanta — DANSBY SWANSON (FA after 2022)
15. Chicago Whiite Sox — TIM ANDERSON (FA after 2022, T/O ‘23, ‘24)
As you can see, a majority of these teams have a long term solution already at shortstop. Now, could some of them decide to move Correa to third base? I suppose so, but then you're immediately mitigating the value of his elite defensive skills. Also, we should mention that one or two of the teams listed above are probably going to end up with Colorado's Trevor Story or Toronto's Marcus Semien (who's playing second base this season), so there is a minor glut of elite shortstops. Not a big problem for Correa, but not ideal for him either.
Gun to my head, I would say the most likely bidders for Correa, other than Jim Crane, are the Angels, Cardinals, Giants, Rangers, and yes, the Yankees, who might move Torres to second base. They've had to figure out this calculus before, when they acquired Alex Rodriguez in 2003, and they could do it again.
In the end, I would say that the Astros chances at re-signing Correa are still 50/50 coin flip, but I don't think it's the foregone conclusion some do that he is out of here after the season. The Astros have a lot of things working for them.
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