Carlos Correa Opts for Options, Chooses Minnesota

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If Twitter determined reality, Carlos Correa would be a Yankee right now. A week after the World Series ended, he posed for a picture in front of Madison Square Garden wearing blue and gray, with former teammate Martín Maldonado playing photographer. You could see the writing on the wall, and many Yankees fans did.

If friendships determined reality, he’d surely still be an Astro. It was Maldonado with him in New York, and the charismatic catcher had a leg up in the recruiting pitch: he had all offseason to talk to Correa, while teams were maintaining radio silence due to the lockout. Houston came back to the table, too: they made several late offers to Correa in an attempt to woo him back.

But Correa has agency, and the Twins do too. Last night, he shocked the baseball world by signing a three-year deal to play in Minnesota:

That’s not the payday anyone expected for the best free agent on the market. It amounts to something of a mulligan; Correa can try free agency again next year, in a class with Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts. Or perhaps it’ll be a two-year deal, with a chance to enter the 2024 offseason as the only elite shortstop available.

Does that make sense from a financial perspective? It depends what Correa’s alternatives were. But it’s unlikely to greatly alter how rich he ends up being; we’ll never know what the road not traveled would have been, but he’s a near-lock to make more than $200 million in his career, and at that point, a lot of that money is just for counting. There’s nothing wrong with counting, of course, but if you’re approaching this deal from the perspective of Correa’s wallet, the answer should be a shrug.

Far more interesting is what this means for the Twins. When they embarked on a two-day trade extravaganza that netted them Gio Urshela, Gary Sánchez, Sonny Gray, and salary relief, it was clear another move would follow. What would that move be? Signing Trevor Story, we all thought, or perhaps a trade that took on salary as well as talent. Correa was an afterthought, if he was even a thought at all; the Twins don’t give out $300 million contracts very often, or indeed ever.

When Correa stopped looking for a long-term deal and decided to accept a shorter one with opt outs, the picture changed overnight. The Twins are an excellent match for that sort of arrangement: they probably won’t compete forever, but over the next few years, they have Byron Buxton under contract and a solid shell around him. Adding Correa to that mix makes for an excellent one-two punch, a core that will give them a shot at the playoffs every year the two play together.

That’s not to say the Twins are finished building a team. Their rotation is still desperately short-handed; Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober will make big contributions, and that’s if everything goes according to plan. There are reasons to like both of them, but those are the kind of starters teams love to have as the first options in case of injury, not the guys starting the season and hoping to avoid injury.

The bullpen is in a similar state; there are a few gems at the top, but the depth is thin at best, and that’s before injuries begin their inevitable winnowing. The team is already down Kenta Maeda, and more pitchers could break. Baseball can be a cruel game that way sometimes. This can be fixed on the trade market or in free agency (though the options are increasingly limited there), but it’s not ideal.

Regardless of those facts, the Twins scored a coup by adding Correa. They were awkwardly incomplete without a shortstop in the fold, a team with several excellent position players but not enough around them. Now, they’re a fearsome offense and a sure playoff contender. We now project them above .500, and when you land the best player in free agency on a deal that could be as short as one year, it’s a good bet that more additions will follow. They’re already rumored to be in on Frankie Montas, and with Oakland and Cincinnati tearing down, they can probably find at least a few pitchers to supplement their current group.

Enough about the ins and outs of team building, though: let’s talk about Correa. Even after signing this deal rather than the mega-contract he was rumored to be chasing, there’s little argument that he’s anything other than one of the best few shortstops in baseball. He’s a well-rounded hitter who spent 2021 shoring up the weakest points in his game while maintaining the things he does best. Baseball isn’t always as easy as figuring out what you’re bad at and fixing it, but Correa is one of the select few players who seems to have a knack for finding and eliminating weak spots.

He hasn’t always been the most patient hitter, but last season, he cut his chase rate by seven percentage points and posted a career-high walk rate. That newfound patience resulted in a career-low swinging strike rate, which led to — you guessed it — a career-low strikeout rate. He’s now a paragon of plate discipline; if he produced results 11% worse than average when he made contact with the ball, he’d still be an average hitter. That’s elite territory, better than Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper, and Buster Posey in 2021, just to name a few hitters I think of as having an excellent approach.

Worse than average when making contact with the ball is a poor assumption for Correa, though. He’s always been dynamic when he puts the ball in play, and 2021 was no exception. His 26 home runs were a career high, and he wasn’t just golfing balls over the short left field porch in Houston:

A short porch isn’t meaningful when you’re crushing everything to kingdom come, and Correa made loud contact in spades last season. He posted a 9.4% barrel rate, the second-highest mark of his career, and hit a ball 116.4 mph, the second-highest exit velocity he’s achieved in his career. In other words, he consistently stung the ball in addition to walking more than ever and striking out less than ever.

Oh yeah, and by elevating slightly and waiting on pitches he could drive, he also recorded the highest line drive rate of his career. It remains to be seen if that’s a new skill or just variance, but consider this: 48.5% of the balls he put in play were thrown over the heart of the plate, the best place to make contact and the zone with the highest line drive rate by far. That was a career-high mark by nearly four percentage points, and yeah, as it turns out, taking more of your swings at easy-to-drive baseballs is a good way to drive more baseballs.

What about defense? You guessed it: Correa looked better than ever last year. As a prospect and even early in his major league career, there were intermittent questions about his ability to handle shortstop given his 6-foot-4 height and bulky, athletic build. Those questions have long since been answered, though: DRS and OAA both had him as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game in 2021, and OAA has him as a cumulative 28 runs above average defensively in his career despite a disastrous -18 in ’16. Since the start of the 2018 season, he’s tied with Andrelton Simmons (!) for the third-most outs above average at short.

Yes, Correa’s trajectory is pointing up, and he’s only 27, so it’s easy to believe there will be a long string of good years ahead of him. ZiPS thinks that he’ll be tremendous in each year of this contract, though of course he’s not particularly likely to make it to year three of this deal:

ZiPS Projection – Carlos Correa
2022 .275 .354 .479 520 86 143 32 1 24 88 63 1 126 5 4.9
2023 .274 .354 .488 496 83 136 32 1 24 86 61 1 128 4 4.7
2024 .273 .353 .481 484 80 132 30 1 23 83 59 1 126 4 4.4

For me, the more interesting projection is what Correa might do this year. ZiPS thinks that even his 30th-percentile outcome is a 4-WAR campaign with a 116 OPS+:

ZiPS 2022 Projection Percentiles – Carlos Correa
90% .312 .398 .602 510 96 159 40 3 34 111 73 1 170 7.8
80% .300 .383 .558 514 93 154 36 2 31 102 69 1 155 6.8
70% .288 .369 .520 517 90 149 35 2 27 96 66 1 141 5.9
60% .281 .361 .505 519 89 146 33 1 27 93 64 1 135 5.5
50% .275 .354 .479 520 86 143 32 1 24 88 63 1 127 4.9
40% .270 .347 .469 522 84 141 30 1 24 85 61 0 122 4.5
30% .266 .342 .449 523 83 139 28 1 22 82 60 0 116 4.1
20% .257 .331 .432 526 81 135 27 1 21 78 57 0 108 3.5
10% .247 .317 .402 530 79 131 25 0 19 71 53 0 97 2.7

The variance in those outcomes isn’t huge, and I think that Correa would have to either miss a chunk of the season with injury (there’s some prior precedent for that) or decide he really likes playing in Minnesota to forgo testing the market again next winter. Another season as one of the best position players in the game – and I think that even the 30th-percentile outcome would establish him there – combined with a straightforward offseason should have bidders crawling out of the woodwork. Dan Szymborski was kind enough to contort ZiPS into a contract projector for me, and it thinks Correa will do just fine if he opts out. Depending on how he does this year and whether he gets hurt, the system thinks he could earn quite a bit on an eight-year deal:

ZiPS Projected Contract by 2022 Result – Carlos Correa
2022 Season 2023-2030 WAR ZiPS Projected Contract ($M)
90th Percentile 37.9 309.8
80th Percentile 34.2 285.6
70th Percentile 31.4 261.9
60th Percentile 30.6 255.2
50th Percentile 28.6 238.0
40th Percentile 28.0 233.3
30th Percentile 26.4 219.9
20th Percentile 24.9 207.0
10th Percentile 22.5 186.4
50th, 600 PA, Generic Injury 28.9 240.8
50th, 500 PA, Generic Injury 27.3 237.1
50th, 400 PA, Generic Injury 25.1 209.3
50th, 300 PA, Generic Injury 24.2 201.9
50th, 200 PA, Generic Injury 23.8 198.2
50th, 100 PA, Generic Injury 21.6 178.4
Missing Season, Generic Injury 18.8 151.3

That brings me to the strangest part of this deal for me: what it implies about the other teams that were attempting to sign Correa. This deal would have been perfect for the Astros; they could have brought back their best player for a year or two while Jeremy Peña, the heir apparent at shortstop, eased into the lineup or polished his minor league credentials. They have space under the CBT even if they treat that as a hard cap, and a few extra wins would go a long way towards a first-round bye in the new playoff structure.

The Yankees are in a similar spot. Their top shortstop prospects aren’t ready for the majors yet, but they will be soon. They, too, are locked in a battle for a playoff bye, and also for the AL East; we have the Blue Jays roughly two wins better than the Yankees at the moment, a gap Correa would more than fill. If a star shortstop is looking for a short-term deal, it’s hard to imagine two better fits than big-market contending teams with shortstop prospects who need roughly one more year of development. Those teams’ loss is Minnesota’s gain. For the Yankees, it’s even more direct than that: they gave the Twins salary relief in the Josh Donaldson trade, and the Twins are using it to sign a player who would have helped the Yankees immensely.

The Twins might yet miss the playoffs. Correa might leave after a year and sign with a big-market juggernaut. But regardless of how this ends, what a brilliant move. Minnesota built a lineup that had a hole in the shape of a slugging shortstop. They got the best slugging shortstop on the market – and potentially in the game – to fill their lineup out perfectly. They did it on their terms, on a short-term deal that lets them compete now and blow it all up in three years if things don’t go well. They took him away from potential Wild Card rivals, too.

In an offseason that’s been full of surprise signings, the Correa deal is a fitting capper. It has everything – an exciting player, a surprise suitor, and a novel contract. It has intra-team drama, implications for top prospects, and carries the promise of more moves out of Minnesota to capitalize on the moment. The landscape of the American League has changed – and when it changes again in a year or three, Correa will be at the center of it once again.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

I forgive them for the weird Yankees deal. Now, is one more starter too much to ask?

2 years ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Rumor has it that they’re in on Frankie Montas. Wouldn’t that be something? Probably an easier lift than Tyler Mahle.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If they can do this and hold on to Miranda, all the better. I like Miranda as a depth bat for the immediate future, which the Twins are all-in on.

2 years ago
Reply to  tz

The most obvious name to go is Royce Lewis. Would they do that?

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Do you Lewis still has enough value to bring in an established mediocre starter? Prospects on as sharp a decline as Lewis is seldom recover. If the Twins can still get a Merrill Kelly or Wade Miley type they should jump on it.

2 years ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

I have no idea what the value is for Lewis these days. But Oakland has been particularly interested in guys who were hurt (Ginn, Hogland) and where the shine came off (Pache), so who knows.

Milton Babip
2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If it’s at the point where the Twins need to outbid other teams in a trade for pitching, Austin Martin might be a more appealing trade centerpiece (a bit higher-rated than Lewis and not coming off a major injury). As exciting as Martin looks like he’s going to be, if 2B or CF ends up being his best position, he might end up having less of a natural fit on the Twins than he would have with another team.