In a stunning move, the Twins have agreed to sign the market’s top free agent, shortstop Carlos Correa, reports Mark Berman of Houston’s Fox 26. Rather than the massive long-term deal that Correa has been seeking, he’ll instead sign a three-year, $105.3M contract with opt-out clauses after the contract’s first and second seasons. ESPN’s Jeff Passan adds that the contract pays an evenly distributed $35.1M annually. Correa is represented by the Boras Corporation.
The Twins are giving Correa the second-highest average annual value of any position player in MLB history, trailing only the $36M AAV on Mike Trout’s decade-long, $360M contract extension with the Angels and narrowly topping the $35M AAV on Anthony Rendon’s seven-year deal with the Angels. The move also means the No. 1 and No. 2 picks from the 2012 draft, Correa and Byron Buxton, will now be teammates for at least the 2022 season.
Upon shedding the remainder of Josh Donaldson’s contract in a trade with the Yankees, Minnesota was immediately linked to free-agent shortstop Trevor Story. Instead, the more than $40M saved in that Donaldson deal will be reallocated to Correa, whose $105.3M guarantee trails only Joe Mauer for the largest in Twins franchise history. Correa rejected a qualifying offer from the Astros at season’s end, meaning the Twins, a revenue-sharing recipient, will forfeit their third-highest selection in this year’s draft in order to sign him. That’ll be their pick in Competitive Balance Round B, which should fall in the mid-60s. The Astros, meanwhile, will gain a compensatory selection at the end of Competitive Balance Round B, which typically falls in the early 70s.
The opt-outs in the deal provide Correa with the ultimate insurance net; if he remains healthy in 2022 and produces anywhere near his 2021 or 2019 levels, he’ll surely reenter the market in search of something along the lines of the 10-year deal he originally sought. If he suffers an injury of note or experiences an unexpected downturn at the plate, he’ll have another $35.1M salary waiting for him in 2023 with the same opt-out opportunity in the 2023-24 offseason.
The 27-year-old Correa, a career .277/.356/.481 hitter who slashed .279/.366/.485 with a career-high 26 homers in 640 plate appearances this past season, will serve as a focal point in a Twins lineup that is also anchored by Buxton and second baseman Jorge Polanco. He’s been an average or better hitter every season of his big league career, with the exception of the shortened 2020 campaign, and has connected on 20 or more home runs in five of his six full-length seasons at the MLB level. Correa has walked at a 10.8% clip and struck out in 20.5% of his plate appearances since debuting as a 20-year-old rookie, including career-best marks of 11.7% and 18.1%, respectively, this past season.
As with any longtime Astro, Correa comes with a relatively tainted reputation stemming from Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal, but George Springer proved last winter that the market will still pay premium rates for those players, provided they remained productive in subsequent years. Correa only serves as further evidence of that reality. And, just as Springer was embraced by Toronto fans, Correa surely will be well-received in Minnesota so long as he produces in a Twins uniform.
Like Buxton, Correa has had some durability issues, only twice reaching 500 plate appearances in his career. However, he played in 148 games this past season and in 58 of 60 games during the shortened 2020 season. Correa had a brief stay on the COVID-19 list over the summer in 2021, but he hasn’t been on the injured list since suffering a broken rib in June 2019. The other notable injury he’s had in his career, a torn thumb ligament, came in 2017 and hasn’t had noticeably lingering effects.
Correa only further deepens a Minnesota lineup that is deep in talent but also lacking in consistency. Each of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Gary Sanchez have 30-homer seasons in their past but have ebbed and flowed through roller-coaster performances at the plate in recent years. Third baseman Gio Urshela, acquired alongside Sanchez in the Donaldson deal, will also look for a rebound to his 2019-20 levels (.310/.358/.523) after playing through health troubles in 2021.
Meanwhile, former top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach have considerable offensive ceilings but played through injuries in their first full looks in 2021. Kirilloff, in particular, played through a torn wrist tendon before undergoing season-ending surgery. Top prospect Jose Miranda, who posted video-game numbers between Double-A and Triple-A this past season (.344/.401/.572), is expected to debut in 2022 and could see time at third base and/or designated hitter.
All of that is to say, the makings of a formidable lineup are present in Minnesota, but they’ll need a few things to break right. From the defensive side of things, Correa gives the Twins a pair of Platinum Glove winners, joining Buxton in that regard. With quality defenders like Kepler, Urshela and young catcher Ryan Jeffers also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. The Twins already ranked 12th in the majors both in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in 2021, and Correa should boost both marks.
The larger questions center around the team’s patchwork starting rotation, however. After shipping Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays prior to the 2021 trade deadline and watching fellow righty Kenta Maeda fall to Tommy John surgery not long after, the Twins entered the winter in need of at least three veteran starters to pair with youngsters Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. They’ve yet to reach that goal. Acquiring Sonny Gray from the Reds gave them one notable upgrade, and rolling the dice on a Dylan Bundy rebound prior to the lockout was a sensible enough move in a vacuum. However, the Twins idled for the early portion of the offseason and are now faced with a rotation that is still lacking and a free-agent market that has been largely picked over.
The Twins have been tied to Athletics starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, but failing that, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine will need to seek some creative and under-the-radar options — particularly now that they’ve gone all-in on the 2022 season with this Correa deal. Minnesota has a number of pitching prospects on the precipice of the big leagues, but Correa is a clear win-now move that necessitates additional fortification in both the rotation and the bullpen.
It’s not clear just how much latitude Falvey and Levine will have to further boost a payroll that now, with Correa’s addition, is at a projected $128.5M — within a few million dollars of franchise-record territory. The front office has repeatedly spoken of ownership support to boost payroll as needed in the past, however, and the shocking addition of Correa seems to support the notion that there’s more room to take the team’s spending levels to new heights, at least for the next few seasons.
Correa’s deal is fascinating on a number of levels, not the least of which being that it’s the first time in recent memory where the market’s consensus No. 1 free agent pivoted to a short-term deal with a potentially early reentry to the market. Entering the offseason, the common consensus was that the Yankees and Correa’s new division rivals, the Tigers, would be the primary bidders for his services. The Yankees not only opted to sit out the market for top-end shortstops entirely (despite a clear need), but in essence paved the way for the Twins to make this deal when they took on the remainder of Donaldson’s contract. The Tigers, meanwhile, offered Correa a reported 10-year, $275M deal with three opt-out clauses — although, presumably not so early in the contract as the offer on which Correa ultimately landed.
Risk-averse detractors will opine that Correa should’ve pounced on the larger guarantee, but with a big season Correa will again enter the market in search of a $300M+ deal and having already banked $35.1M in 2022. If he reaches even $240M on a multiyear deal next winter, in advance of his age-28 season, or a $205M+ deal after a 2023 opt-out, he’d come out ahead on the entire gambit.
Even in the event that Correa unexpectedly plays all three seasons in Minnesota on this deal, he’d return to the open market in advance of his age-30 season and needing to clear what could very well be an attainable $170M to top that reported Detroit offer. It’s obviously possible that Correa struggles, gets injured or never reaches that same earning ceiling, but he’s known as a supremely confident player — a mentality that is underscored by taking a deal of this nature.
The incumbent Astros offered Correa five years at a total of $160M prior to the lockout and, earlier in the week, were said to be prepping a new offer for their longtime star. It’s not yet clear what Houston ultimately put forth, but their initial offer didn’t include any opt-out provisions. If the new offer followed suit in that regard, it’s possible that Correa simply felt that in order to accept a shorter-term deal than the 10-year pact he initially sought, he’d need the opportunity to take another bite at the free-agent apple sooner than later.
Correa’s future trips to the market hinge on how the 2022 and perhaps the 2023 seasons play out, but regardless of when he returns to free agency, he’ll do so with a few advantages. Firstly, he won’t be one of five high-end shortstops on the market, as was the case this year. The combination of Correa, Story, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Javier Baez is regarded as perhaps the greatest collection of free-agent shortstops in history. The talented nature of that group always created the possibility for a game of musical chairs that left one without the contract he sought, but few would have expected Correa to take a short-term deal.
Were Correa to return to the market next winter, he’d do so alongside Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson and perhaps Xander Bogaerts, who can opt out of his contract’s final three years and $60M. However, Bogaerts’ defensive shortcomings have been increasingly placed under the microscope in recent years, and Swanson has never performed at Correa’s level either offensively or defensively. Turner and Correa certainly have the potential to be seen as 1-A and 1-B on next year’s market, but age is on Correa’s side; he’s more than a year younger than Turner. Furthermore, because Correa received a qualifying offer this winter, he’s now permanently ineligible to receive a second one. The qualifying offer system may yet be done away with entirely — that’s dependent on negotiations surrounding an international draft — but Correa is forever free from draft-pick compensation, regardless.
The other element of the contract to consider is the agency component of it. Correa turned heads by hiring Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor to represent him in September 2019. WME represented him up until midway through this offseason’s MLB lockout, but Correa hired the Boras Corporation to represent him on Jan. 18. There’s little sense speculating on the motivation behind the switch, but the change in representation meant that Correa’s former agents could have staked a claim to the commission from his eventual contract. Whenever Correa returns to the market, be it post-2022, post-2023 or post-2024, his new representation will command the entirety of the commission.
From a pure baseball perspective, the contract is a win both for Correa and for the Twins. Correa can lay claim to a nominal salary record — largest annual value for an infielder — and receive a massive yearly salary while retaining the ability to return to free agency in advance of either his age-28, age-29 or age-30 season.
The Twins, meanwhile, score the largest upgrade available to them on the market, catapulting them back into the conversation in the American League Central. They won’t be considered favorites without securing some additional pitching help, but Correa nevertheless provides radical improvement on both sides of the ball. The magnitude of the pitching upgrades the Twins have up their sleeve will determine their fate in 2022, but if their shocking deal with Correa is any indicator, they’re far from done improving this roster.