One of the most ridiculous hot stove sagas in baseball history has finally — so it appears — reached its epic conclusion.
Star shortstop Carlos Correa will be … on the same team that he played for last year.
When you put it that way, what’s the big deal?
No matter the context, players staying put in free agency is always inherently less interesting than them finding new threads elsewhere. In this case, however, the road we took to get to the traditionally less-intriguing outcome has been anything but ordinary.
At the onset of this historic offseason of spectacular spending, it was clear that the Twins were going to make a sincere effort to retain Correa, the superstar that all but fell in their lap after a much different but similarly unlikely sequence of events last offseason. By all accounts, there was mutual interest in a reunion.
But it’s free agency. Money talks. And two separate times over the past month, the Twins’ reported offers were being blown out of the water by larger-market teams with boatloads of cash to spend. Outside of the fact that it happened with two different teams in the same winter, it was hardly unusual to see such a sequence take place with a high-profile free agent.
What was unusual, of course, turned out to be Correa’s physical condition — specifically the status of his right ankle, which he had surgery on back in 2014. Despite Correa not missing time because of it, both the Giants and Mets expressed significant concern over how well his ankle would hold up over the course of a long-term deal. When the Giants backed out just before preparing to introduce Correa, the Mets swooped in with a sizable offer of their own, neglecting San Francisco the opportunity to restructure a possible contract. But once the Mets communicated similar concerns about the ankle to Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, several weeks of negotiations commenced to try to reach an amended agreement.
As the days passed and the Mets failed to reach consensus with Correa’s camp over proper contract language regarding possible protection in the case of an ankle injury, the window appeared to be slowly be re-opening for Minnesota to continue their efforts to retain Correa — a goal that had at no point wavered as long as Correa had yet to put pen to paper for another franchise.
Reports surfaced Monday night that for the first time all offseason, the Twins had emerged as the legitimate front-runner for Correa. By Tuesday afternoon, he’d agreed to a new deal — a third deal!!! — this one guaranteeing far less than his initial pact with San Francisco a month ago, but still a hefty sum for a player whose medical was clearly a legitimate red flag moving forward.
After spending the past year qualifying any Correa discourse with the assumption that he ultimately would opt out and take his talents elsewhere, it turned out Minnesota may have been the best place for him all along. Now, he’ll be a Twin for at least the next six seasons, and possibly the next 10.
Skeptics may point to this reunion and point out that Minnesota just finished 78-84 with Correa in tow:
They already had him. What’s bringing him back really going to accomplish?
The Twins’ downfall in 2022 had little, if anything, to do with Correa. A promising first half was derailed by several key injuries, particularly to a pitching staff that was arguably too thin to contend for a division title to begin with. Correa, meanwhile, logged 590 plate appearances and posted the highest wRC+ of any shortstop in baseball. He did his part, and everyone knows one superstar does not a good baseball team make.
Beyond the statistics, it’s clear Correa also made a serious impact in the Twins dugout, adding a unique combination of immense postseason experience and advanced analytical expertise — an ideal blend to infuse into a clubhouse chock-full of young hitters looking to establish themselves at the big-league level.
The Twins’ horrific second-half does not negate Correa’s effect on this organization both on and off the field. Even after opting out of his contract shortly after the season, Correa was clearly still connecting with his teammates.
While Correa departing for the most lucrative offer in free agency seemed likely, that never made the Twins any less of an ideal fit for the player and the person. Sure, he could’ve been the new face of a Giants franchise desperate for a cornerstone. Or he could’ve been a luxury addition in Queens to an already star-studded Mets roster. But no matter what the standings showed at the end of 2022, all signs pointed to “Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twin” having been a resounding success.
As Correa himself said, he’s the product. If they wanted it, they just had to go get it. The process may not have turned out to be quite that simple, but the end result remains the same. The Twins always wanted him back. It cost a certain amount of money — and some level of risk associated with his ankle moving forward — but they went and got him.
Correa’s return does also prompt several questions about Minnesota’s infield alignment for 2023, particularly in relation to the other moves they’ve made this offseason as the Correa saga dragged on. For example: If Correa was reportedly ready to slide over to third base with the Mets for Francisco Lindor, might he do the same for November acquisition Kyle Farmer? I’ll bet no on that, but the hot corner does remain something of a question mark considering the Twins dealt Gio Urshela away to the Angels. Urshela wasn’t just the Twins’ primary third baseman — he was one of their more reliable hitters alongside Correa. With his departure, will Minnesota trust José Miranda defensively full-time at third? Or does Luis Arráez profile better there than at first? Then there’s the question of what to do with top prospect Royce Lewis now that Correa is committed
Still, these are all good problems to have. I’m confident Rocco Baldelli is overjoyed with the challenge of arranging his infield around Correa rather than pushing forward without the superstar.
Had Correa re-committed to the Twins with a long-term deal at the start of the offseason, it’d have been a much simpler and feel-good reunion to process and analyze. Minnesota loved having him, he loved being there, and they managed to extend their partnership beyond the initial unexpected marriage.
Instead, the ridiculous events of this offseason have ensured that the remainder of his big-league career will now be viewed through the lens of a series of what-ifs, both looking backward and forward. What if the Giants had gone through with the original 13-year deal? What if the Mets had hammered out the details and successfully paired Correa and Lindor for the next decade à la Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez? What if Correa stays healthy and is a perennial MVP candidate? What if his ankle does indeed become a problem far sooner than any of us think?
Decades from now his Baseball-Reference page and transaction log won’t reflect the fact that both the Mets and Giants will undeniably be linked to Correa for the rest of his career. Whether their respective last-minute decisions to walk away from the shortstop prove prudent remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Twins — whom many still can’t believe ever had Correa in the first place — will soon head to spring training having somehow pulled off what seemed beyond impossible at multiple junctions of the winter: retaining one of the best players in baseball for the long haul.
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
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