If you want a more a shocking jolt in this state than Carlos Correa signing with the Minnesota Twins — seemingly out of nowhere — it usually takes a step outside during the first 40 below morning in January. Trust me if you’ve never indulged in this rite of passage, it bewilders the senses when you’re unprepared.
Correa and the Twins sent shock waves through baseball Saturday morning, agreeing to a three-year, $105.3 million deal with opt-out clauses after the first two seasons, representing the shortstop earning the highest annual average value for an infielder at $35.1 million a season and the highest free agent contract in Minnesota Twins history.
The agreement is ultimately a bet on themselves by both player and team. Correa is betting he can replicate a career 2021 season at the plate and in the field. The Twins are betting that a spunky team projected at 84 wins before his signing could make a run at the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central, and avoid a first round playoff exit (especially if it’s the Yankees).
Carlos Correa and the Minnesota Twins are betting big on themselves for 2022.
Correa, a 5.8 fWAR player in his age-26 season, scorched through the 2021 season to the tune of a .279 average, 26 home runs and 92 RBI (134 wRC+), with only a .178/.256/.301 AVG/OBP/SLG slash line in July that produced 56 wRC+ holding him back from a truly phenomenal season.
The superstar shortstop brings a lot to the table. He was a No. 1 overall pick in 2012 (now united with No. 2 pick that year, Byron Buxton), the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015, a two-time all star, with a Gold Glove and a top-5 AL MVP finish last year.
Some fans will clamor against this signing because Correa was on the 2017 Houston Astros team that won the World Series and were later found be involved in a trash can banging sign stealing scheme that season, with no discipline handed out to the players.
Truth is, Correa and others from that tainted Astros team were incredible talents before and remain so now. The microscope is still likely to find Correa as it did former teammate George Springer, at times even at his new home park in Toronto.
Beyond that, Correa has some injury concerns coming into play. Since coming into the league, he’s played more than 150 games only once (2016) — not counting the pandemic season where he tallied 58 regular season games— and cleared 148 games last season. He’s not the model for consistency, but still reached 100-plus in every full season except his rookie year and 2019, where the right depth behind him lessens the impact, plus playoff games.
Leaving Minute Maid Park for Target Field shouldn’t impact his production significantly. While he leaves a hitter-friendly park for right handed hitters for one less conducive, he joins an AL Central with three teams — Kansas City (10), Cleveland (11) and Chicago (13) — that are in the top half of Park Factors rankings. Minnesota (18) ranks slightly in the bottom half teams.
Of note, though, Correa registered a 1.205 OPS during his career at Target Field. If he produces and is healthy enough to be of impact when he does play, Correa seems likely to opt out and test the 2023 free agent.
A pro of that route includes an off season not marred by collective bargaining negotiations and a 99-day lockout. A con is that he could enter a market with Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts also in free agency, yet with Correa being the youngest of the trio by a few years.
He could also find a market easier to land a long-term deal, with new agent Scott Boras set to benefit the most from a post-2022 contract, and more teams like the Chicago Cubs looking to add a cornerstone player.
The Minnesota Twins have less to lose in this equation. They make a splash signing with one of baseball’s top shortstops with a team just a starter pitcher or two from truly contending. All it cost was money that, as of now, keeps Minnesota about $100 million from the first threshold of the Competitive Balance Tax.
Minnesota is in the throes of a farm system that could tip either way, per The Athletic’s Keith Law, with a core roster that made the playoffs during back to back seasons in 2019 and 2020. Signing Correa represents a calculated risk at this point.
The White Sox have a more solid young core of players, but a weaker farm system and they haven’t made the significant move to put themselves over the top. Further back, Kansas City added a few pieces that could challenge for a Wild Card spot and Detroit has one of most exciting young prospect groups in baseball. So while time isn’t of the essence for the Twins, this year represents a chance to strike quickly.
If Correa opts out in 2023 — or even 2024 — the Twins keep open salary space for extensions, trades or other splashy moves. Some of their future success will depend on the farm system’s pitching prospects and the fate of Royce Lewis and Austin Martin, who despite questions of their long-term future at shortstop, could represent bats to replace Correa.
What Correa’s signing indicates, if anything, is an ownership group willing to spend in at least the short term to make a long title run. For a team that’s lost 18 consecutive playoff games, adding the postseason experience of Correa, who appeared in the playoffs every year but 2016 including three trips to the World Series, to the mix
No matter how it breaks as the seasons move on, the Twins and Correa made a mutually beneficial bet on themselves, that has the potential to pay out for both in a really short time.