About eight months ago at a spring training facility in Florida, Carlos Correa sat alongside his agent, Scott Boras, at a news conference to officially announce his new team.
It was not in Lakeland with the Tigers, as many had expected at the beginning of the offseason. Nor was it in nearby Tampa with the Yankees, who had opted instead to go the stopgap route at shortstop rather than splurge for the superstar. It wasn’t in Clearwater, either, as the Phillies viewed the outfield as more of a pressing need and spent accordingly.
Correa was in Fort Myers, home of the Minnesota Twins, who had just pulled off one of the more shocking free-agent signings in MLB history.
Yes, this was partially a result of an unusual offseason in which two of the top shortstops available (Corey Seager and Marcus Semien) signed with the same team just before a historic lockout threw everything for a loop until March. It also required a creative short-term contract that gave Correa the highest AAV among all shortstops but also the ability to opt out after the first season.
Still, no matter the sequence of events, the result was stunning: Correa, one of the faces of the sport over the past half-decade — for reasons better and worse — was a Twin for 2023.
Following a disappointing 2021, the Twins brought Correa in as a bold statement they intended to return to contention quickly. In first place for much of the first half with Correa playing well, things seemed to be going according to plan. The season eventually went off the rails for reasons that had nothing to do with the shortstop, leading Correa to opt out as many expected but without even a trip to the postseason to show for it.
Correa, though, did his part.
Though a decline in his defensive metrics sapped his WAR totals somewhat, his 140 wRC+ (making him 40% better than the average MLB hitter) was still best among all shortstops — most notably ahead of fellow free-agent shortstops Xander Bogaerts (second), Trea Turner (fourth) and Dansby Swanson (ninth).
Include his monster 2021, and he’s still tops among all shortstops in wRC+, still edging out Turner and Bogaerts, and another name relevant to this conversation: Seager.
Having just turned 28 in September, Correa is still the youngest big-name free agent available just as he was a year ago. He’s five months younger now than Seager was when he signed his 10-year, $325-million deal with Texas last winter. Age is on Correa’s side once again, and that should serve him well as he seeks to secure a long-term deal this time around.
We also know Correa comes with some baggage.
Even with a full year away from Houston and even having proven definitively that he is still amazing without the help of banging on some trash cans, Correa will always have the stink of the 2017 sign-stealing scandal following him. It’s not just that he was one of the biggest stars in the lineup at the time, it’s that Correa was notably defiant in the months following the scandal’s reporting. He seemed to embrace the villain status far more than any of his teammates, and that seemed to put him in his own category of how he was viewed by fans across the league.
Still, when you add it all up, you have one of the best shortstops in baseball with a somewhat controversial on-field persona — but also an excellent reputation as a teammate reinforced by his year with the Twins in which everyone raved about him. That makes his fit on a team much more interesting than the other three shortstops available, who you could reasonably plug in anywhere and assume the fans and clubhouse would embrace them immediately.
I generally believe any fan base would come around and adore Correa in a hurry should he join their squad, but fans are fans for a reason — rationality is not guaranteed. Baseball-wise, Correa makes a ton of sense for a ton of teams, and that’s the most important dynamic at play. However, his unexpected season in Minnesota made me especially curious about his next chapter.
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In Houston, Correa was one of several faces of the franchise. He never quite ascended to Jose Altuve’s level, but he was right up there with George Springer and Alex Bregman as the first players you’d associate with the Astros.
For Minnesota, Correa was brought in to be The Guy, at least alongside Byron Buxton. Beyond the pure talent for which he was handsomely paid, Correa also came with extensive postseason pedigree, an added bonus for a Twins franchise desperate to not only return to the playoffs but find any level of success there.
Though no one seems to expect it, the Twins could still manage to retain Correa long-term — it will just likely take a much bigger financial commitment than the one they made to him eight months ago. If he does stay put, Correa will continue to be one of the new faces of Minnesota’s franchise, alongside Byron Buxton, who can hopefully stay healthy enough to star alongside Correa for years to come. That was Correa’s role: be awesome at baseball and be a clubhouse leader as someone who has “Been There and Done That.”
However, if Correa does depart, there are several roles he could fill with his new club depending on where he ends up. Let’s take a look at some possible candidates and how Correa would likely fit in both on the field and in relation to his new teammates.
Signing Correa this time around and moving Javier Baez to second base would be an all-time mulligan and one hell of a first move for new GM Scott Harris. It’s probably not going to happen, but hey, Correa is available again! All it costs is money!
People tried to make Correa to Baltimore happen last winter, connecting him to GM Mike Elias, who drafted him No. 1 overall when he was still working for the Astros. It didn’t make a whole lotta sense a year ago with Baltimore still in full rebuild mode, but a shockingly strong 2022 has the O’s much closer to contention much faster than anyone could have imagined.
Now, it makes more sense, although it’d still require an enormous financial commitment that would be a huge departure from the troublingly low payrolls they’ve been running in recent years. The fit here is also exciting because Adley Rutschman is already the face of the franchise and should be for the next decade-plus, so Correa wouldn’t really have to be the guy, but his playoff experience would surely serve this young team well as they transition into contention mode.
They already have the golden boy; now they just need legitimate stars to compete in the brutal AL East. Correa is a perfect fit in that sense, though it still might be a year too early to go big-game hunting.
This would be similar to the Orioles in that the Cubs would be bringing Correa in as a loud-and-clear Win Now move, but unlike the Orioles, there is no Rutschman-level player or personality already on the roster to share the face of the franchise responsibilities with. Correa would immediately become the team’s best player by a significant margin, and would be undeniably symbolic as the face of the next era of high-quality Cubs baseball as they come out of this rebuild.
That’s a lot of pressure, but also something that Correa seems like he’d happily embrace head-on. If anything, Minnesota prepared him to play in the freezing cold in April. He’d be thrilled to be playing in a frigid Wrigley Field in October at some point in the next few years.
A year after letting Freddie Freeman walk in favor of trading for Matt Olson, would Atlanta consider doing the same with Swanson and sign Correa? Unlike with Olson, Correa represents a definitive upgrade over Swanson, albeit not nearly the kind of lovable hometown replacement Olson was.
Should Correa join Atlanta, he’d have an argument for being the best player, but this team belongs to Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and now Michael Harris II. Reports suggest this is unlikely, but the Braves have pulled off some stone-cold stunners in the past, so they deserve a mention.
Dodgers: A regular customer at the top of the free-agent market, L.A. has to be considered an option if Turner departs. From a baseball standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. But it’s worth noting that besides the Yankees, there’s almost certainly no other fan base with more distaste for Correa than Dodgers fans, as the other primary victim of the 2017 cheating scandal.
If the fans can get over it, though, Correa would still only be the third star at best behind the likes of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, let alone franchise icon Clayton Kershaw. He won’t be many Dodgers fans’ favorite player, but if he helps them get back to the World Series, they’d likely come around pretty quickly.
Yankees: How this would be received by the Yankees fan base would be largely contingent on whether or not Aaron Judge returns to the Bronx. If Judge stays a Yankee, and their top offseason goal is accomplished, the addition of Correa would mean a few things. For one, it would mean the Yankees would be blowing past the luxury tax more like the Mets and Dodgers have been recently, something fans would be overjoyed to see.
Perhaps more importantly, Judge would remain the lovable homegrown headliner, and Correa would simply be expected to fit in and be a damn good shortstop the way he always has.
Should Judge leave and the Yankees sign Correa as their one big move as an alternative, Yankees fans would likely be relieved to come away with at least one star this winter, but would probably not be thrilled to start celebrating Correa as the new face of their team, especially considering they have two exciting homegrown shortstop prospects in Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe knocking on the door.
It seems their focus is on Judge, but if they miss out there and want to upgrade over 36-year-old Brandon Crawford, whose production plummeted in 2022, Correa would be an excellent option. He didn’t grow up a Giants fan like Judge did in Northern California, so it’s not quite as clean a fit, but if the goal is simply to spend a lot of money on great baseball players to improve the team quickly, why not Correa?
Like Judge, he’d immediately be their best player and his youth relative to Judge arguably makes him an even better piece to build around moving forward.
Like the Yankees, the Giants’ top prospect is also a shortstop in Marco Luciano, but he’s not nearly as close to the big leagues — and as promising as he is, it is hard to already project him as the obvious successor to Crawford
Mariners: As a longtime AL West foe, Mariners fans have been booing Correa since before they even know about the cheating scandal. That said, as a franchise and fan base completely starving for a star free-agent hitter to choose Seattle, it’s hard to imagine not embracing Correa rather quickly — especially as they try to close the gap with his old Houston friends in the division.
Philadelphia could also be looking to upgrade at shortstop and slide Bryson Stott over to second base. Correa would be a much bigger personality to bring in than another reported target in Turner, but it likely wouldn’t make that much of a difference: this is Bryce Harper’s team, through and through, and if the postseason taught us anything, it’s that he and Kyle Schwarber are the headliners in Philly no matter what free agent comes through the door.
It’s all about getting back to the World Series now, and the vibes are still great; among teams that are already contenders, this feels like the fan base that would be the most ecstatic to add Correa.
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