Few teams have a greater need at one position this winter than the Astros do at shortstop. Carlos Correa is no longer a member of the American League champions, and based on the club’s purported unwillingness to offer more than five or six years in contract negotiations, it seems likely that the former No. 1 overall pick will be wearing a different jersey in 2022.
Fortunately for Houston’s brass, this year’s free-agent shortstop class is the best in recent memory. Additionally, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander’s expiring contracts have freed up a substantial amount of money to be spent, and with Jim Crane voicing that he will maintain the payroll of recent years, it’s a safe bet that the team will be fairly aggressive in looking to sign a top shortstop, albeit one that won’t command $300 million, or close to it.
Trevor Story is one such option. Twice an All-Star with the Rockies, Story is one of the five big-name shortstops on the free-agent market, along with Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Javier Báez. While the other four have their various caveats — Correa and Seager’s respective injury histories, Báez’s volatility at the plate — perhaps the most significant among them is Coors Field, Story’s home park of the last six years.
Coors Field’s infamous effect on the game may as well be ancient history at this point. The altitude hampers pitchers’ abilities to keep the ball in the park — as well as their pitch repertoires in general — which effectively juices offensive stats.
The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicts Story will receive a 7-year, $204 million contract, while MLB Trade Rumors has the ex-Rockies shortstop landing a 6-year, $126 million deal. The large discrepancy notwithstanding, as well as Bowden’s divisive reputation, even MLBTR’s more modest prediction would be a nice sum of money for a player with a career .241/.310/.442 slash line away from Coors (for context: .972 career OPS at home).
This is where the ballpark-factoring metric wRC+ becomes handy. Story’s high mark was 128 in 2018, a year where he hit .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs. In 2021, Correa slashed .279/.366/.485 with 26 home runs. He finished the year with a 134 wRC+.
Comparatively speaking, Correa has outclassed Story at the plate according to wRC+. The former’s career figure is 128, whereas the latter’s is 112.
The fairly extreme home-road splits legitimize the concerns surrounding Story’s offensive output away from the altitude, but at the same time, there are multiple cases in recent years of hitters still producing quality numbers even after departing Colorado, and chief among them might be Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu, who has produced career-high numbers during his tenure in New York.
The main question for Story isn’t necessarily if he’ll be good post-Coors Field, it’s how good. As two-way shortstops go, he has been one of the game’s finest. His eye-popping offensive numbers — however propped up by Colorado’s thin air — and his skill in the field (strong DRS numbers throughout his career) make for a strong overall profile. It seemed he was on his way to warranting $200 million or more in free agency following an impressive three-season stretch from 2018 to 2020.
Though 2021 was a step back offensively — his wRC+ was exactly average at 100 — it could enable the Astros to enter the picture with a feasible five or six-year offer worth upward of $125 million, a similar contract to the one they offered Correa in March.
Considering the relative uncertainty at the plate going forward, it could be a slight gamble to spend that much on Story. But given the Astros’ unequivocal need for a quality shortstop, one that could make an impact not just offensively but in the field as well, so as to keep the club’s stellar defense intact, perhaps it would be a rather reasonable gamble.